Fairfax County should rename Lee and Sully districts, committee says

The Sully District Governmental Center (via Google Maps)

A committee appointed to guide Fairfax County’s redistricting process last year will recommend that two of the county’s magisterial districts get new names.

In a draft report released on Feb. 22, the Redistricting Advisory Committee (RAC) says that the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors should consider renaming Lee and Sully districts as part of its ongoing effort to move away from place and landmark names with historical ties to the Confederacy or slavery.

The recommendation comes from a six-person workgroup that the committee formed to focus on those specific districts.

“The subcommittee agrees that commemoration of Confederate names and associated properties does not reflect the values of our community today,” the report says, stating that its goal is “not to erase history,” but to update the names to support the county’s One Fairfax equity policy.

The Board of Supervisors appointed 20 people to the RAC in June to develop new electoral district maps for the county. While that task was completed in December, the group proposed sticking together to reevaluate district and precinct names, with a particular focus on Lee and Sully.

The committee was reappointed on Dec. 7 and began the renaming evaluation process on Jan. 18.

According to the draft report, the historical record “is somewhat inconclusive” on whether Lee District was named directly after Confederate general Robert E. Lee or a different member of that family, but the RAC subcommittee felt that the association could create confusion if the name is left in place.

The Fairfax County School Board voted to rename Springfield’s Lee High School, which was explicitly named after Robert E. Lee, after the civil rights activist and late Rep. John Lewis in July 2020.

The inspiration for Sully District’s moniker is less ambiguous, stemming from the county’s Sully Historic Site that was once a plantation owned by Richard Bland Lee, Northern Virginia’s first Congressional representative.

“Lee named the land he inherited Sully in 1789 and for twenty years under his charge the Sully Plantation was the location of commercial activity and profit from the kidnapping, human trafficking, and abuse of over one hundred lives — men, women and children,” the RAC report said.

The RAC also considered the Mason, Mount Vernon and Springfield districts as potential renaming candidates, but ultimately voted against recommending changes.

The Mason and Mount Vernon votes were unanimous. While George Mason and George Washington, whose estate gives Mount Vernon its name, were both slaveholders, committee members agreed that a distinction should be drawn between Confederate leaders and foundational American figures.

“Because the names ‘Mount Vernon’ and ‘Mason’ act as important opportunities to highlight early founding contributions that positively impact our nation today, and as opportunities to elevate the pursuit of restorative justice and reflective education, the subgroup distinguishes these names from others under consideration,” the draft report said.

The committee was more split on Springfield, with 12 members voting against a name change and five supporting one.

The report indicates that there’s some dispute among historians over whether Springfield District was named after a plantation called Springfield Farm or the location of the county’s original center of government, which derived its name from nearby natural water springs.

The RAC cites Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity’s assertion that residents hadn’t identified a need to rename Springfield District but at a town hall on Feb. 9, residents spoke both for and against a name change.

The RAC will finalize its report when it meets tonight (Tuesday) before sending it to the Board of Supervisors, which will determine whether to proceed with any renamings and, if so, what the new names will be.

Photo via Google Maps