Panel recommends renaming hundreds of military assets tied to Confederacy
From framed artwork and historical displays in the Pentagon to entire bases and ships, there are some 1,112 Department of Defense assets identified in the Naming Commission’s final report to Congress last week targeted for rebranding or renaming because they memorialize people or events tied to the Confederacy.
In August, the commission released the first two parts of its three-part report, focusing on U.S. Army bases and the U.S. Military Academy and U.S. Naval Academy, respectively.
The final part provided to Congress reviewed other military assets, provided projected costs of the program and made recommendations for the DOD to rename or rebrand assets by a deadline of Jan. 1, 2024.
Notably, although not all agencies of the DOD were represented, the report concluded the program would cost an estimated $62.5 million to implement.
The Naming Commission was established by the Defense Authorization Act of 2021 and tasked with five primary duties, including developing criteria and procedures for identifying and renaming assets, assessing the cost of the renaming program and creating a plan for preventing Confederate-aligned names from being commemorated by the DOD in the future. The program must also incorporate “local sensitivities.” The commission is made up of eight appointed members.
In order for an asset to qualify for renaming, guidelines suggest it be owned by the Pentagon and originally named with the “core purpose” of honoring or commemorating “the Confederacy or a person who served voluntarily with the Confederacy.” Grave markers and museum exhibits are excluded, and the commission also had leeway to consider the “historical context of the original naming decision.”
As part of the process for renaming the assets, the commission also gathered public input online and visited nine Army bases, where it conducted meetings with local stakeholders. Those bases were identified in part one of the report and include some of the Army’s most storied institutions.
Fort Bragg in North Carolina, for example, was named after Braxton Bragg, a slave-owning Confederate Army officer considered “one of the worse generals of the Civil War,” according to the report. Similarly, “ardent secessionist” and “bitter opponent of abolition” Confederate general Henry L. Benning is the namesake of Fort Benning on the Georgia-Alabama border. Fort Hood in Texas memorializes John Bell Hood, an “aggressive” Confederate general whose troops suffered some of the highest casualty rates in the Civil War.
During the public input process, more than 34,000 replacement names were nominated, the commission reported. The commission determined the intent of renaming should be to honor deceased individuals who “distinguished themselves through courageous and valorous acts and/or through a life of service” to the United States. Preference will be given to names that have an affiliation with the location of the asset or branch of the military.
The recommended names reflect a more diverse and inclusive military.
Fort Lee in Virginia, originally named for Robert E. Lee, may be renamed for two African Americans, Charity Adams and Arthur J. Gregg. Adams became the second-highest ranking woman in the Women’s Army Corps during World War II and was responsible for delivering more than 6 million pieces of mail per month. Gregg enlisted in 1945 and helped rebuild Europe, but rose in the ranks to become logistics director for the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Fort Polk in Louisiana was originally named after Leonidas Polk, a “slave-owning bishop” who became a major general in the Confederate army, according to the report. The commission recommended it be renamed for Sergeant William Henry Johnson, a Black Army soldier who was the first American to win the French Croix de Guerre award. Johnson’s bravery during World War I was marked by an episode of hand-to-hand combat where he survived despite being outnumbered 20-1.
The commission recommended Fort Hood be renamed for Richard E. Cavazos, a Mexican American and the Army’s first Hispanic four-star general. Van Barfoot, whose name may replace Confederate Gen. George Pickett at Fort Pickett in Virginia, was of Native American ethnicity. He was awarded the Medal of Honor for dodging fire in the trenches of Italy during World War II, where in one battle, he killed eight German soldiers and captured 17 others. Later that same day, Barfoot armed himself with a bazooka and single handedly disrupted a convoy of tanks.
Separately, the commission recommended Fort A.P. Hill in Virginia be renamed for a New York woman, Dr. Mary Edward Walker, who ”had already emerged as a skilled surgeon and strong abolitionist and advocate of women’s rights and equality” when the Civil War broke out in 1861.
Fort Bragg, it recommends, be renamed Fort Liberty.
By far, the Army has more assets memorializing the Confederacy than any other agency on the list, but other highly visible military assets are also targeted.
The Navy, for example, noted the USS Chancellorsville, a guided missile cruiser commissioned in 1989, is named after a Confederate battle victory where more than 1,600 Union troops were killed. Although the 350-foot survey ship USNS Maury is named after the “father of modern oceanography” Matthew Fontaine Maury, the historical record reflects Maury resigned from the U.S Navy to sail with the Confederacy. Additionally, there are dozens of streets or buildings on Naval property named after Confederate individuals or vessels.
Geographically, the commission reported targeted assets in 20 states and two other countries, including on army bases in Germany and Japan.
Confederate symbolism has been associated with white supremacy since its inception, but a national conversation to erase such monuments and memorials from public display only began in earnest after the racially motivated shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015. The movement amplified in 2017, amid the divisive Trump presidency and particularly after the violent Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
In recent years, such monuments and memorials have been removed, renamed or erased from federal buildings, county courthouses, schoolhouses, state capitols and state flags.
In a media roundtable Sept. 13, commissioners said the report would be handed over to the House and Senate Armed Services Committee and the Secretary of Defense. Commissioner Lt. Gen. Thomas Bostick (U.S. Army, Ret.) reflected on the quality of the renaming nominees and other aspects of the commission's work.
“This has been a good opportunity for us to look at a long list of heroes, provide those lists to the service secretaries, and give them the opportunity when they're renaming buildings and roads and other installations, that they have a good starting point to move from,” Bostick said, adding local communities were actively engaged in the process. “We've been looking at these base names for a long, long time and the timing was right … when you look at what happened with George Floyd and other issues.”
The bill does not require additional action from Congress.
On Thursday, the Southern Poverty Law Center issued a statement noting the report reveals “just how deeply rooted white supremacy culture has been within military ranks.”
“The 1910s and 1960s saw the biggest spike in the dedication of Confederate memorials associated with the military, substantiating evidence that these memorials went up as part of an organized propaganda campaign in support of the Jim Crow era that followed Reconstruction and as a backlash to the civil rights movement,” the statement read.
Independently, the SPLC has identified more than 2,000 similar Confederate memorials or monuments in public spaces in the United States, which they call “dehumanizing symbols of pain and oppression contin[uing] to serve as backdrops to government buildings and halls of justice, and are prominently placed inside of and around schools, public parks, counties, cities and military property.
“People of color should never have had to serve on Confederate-named military bases – a constant, painful reminder of the white supremacy and racism that has stained our democracy since this country’s inception," the statement said. "Now that the Naming Commission has released its final report, it is time to do the right thing.”
This article was edited to clarify ethnicities of nominees for base replacement names and add comments from Lt. Gen. Thomas Bostick.