The military is starting its review to rename bases or other assets that commemorate the Confederate States of America, or people who willingly served with the Confederacy, by looking at 10 Army forts.
Starting this summer and continuing into the fall, a commission tasked with renaming these facilities will visit and consider Fort Bragg, North Carolina; Fort Rucker, Alabama; Fort Benning and Fort Gordon, Georgia; Fort Hood, Texas; Fort Polk, Louisiana; and four locations in Virginia, including Fort A.P. Hill, Fort Belvoir, Fort Lee and Fort Pickett, Retired Navy Adm. Michelle Howard, who chairs the commission, said in a news conference Friday.
The eight-member panel is officially known as the Commission on the Naming of Items of the Department of Defense That Commemorate the Confederate States of America or Any Person Who Served Voluntarily with the Confederate States of America, but is commonly referred to by its shorter nickname, the Naming Commission.
The commission has a lot of work ahead of it. Beyond the first 10 Army installations, it will also review everything from ships, buildings and equipment to vehicles and even streets named to commemorate the Confederacy or its figures, Howard said. The list of things potentially requiring renaming could run into the hundreds or even thousands.
But its work will also be politically volatile. Pressure dramatically increased on the Pentagon to stop honoring Confederate figures in recent years, as the nation focused on racial justice and the legacy of slavery. Resistance has also been fierce, with former President Donald Trump repeatedly denouncing efforts to change base names and disparaging the calls to do so as “cancel culture.”
Congress ordered the commission’s creation as part of the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act. Trump vetoed the legislation in his final weeks in office, in part because of the renaming issue, but Congress voted Jan. 1 to override his veto.
The commission first met March 2 and has since met five more times on a biweekly basis. It plans to keep to that schedule.
It must report its progress to the House and Senate Armed Services Committees on Oct. 1 and have completed its work a year after that.
Howard said the Navy has also identified a Navy vessel, the oceanographic survey ship Maury, that may need to be renamed. It was named for Matthew Fontaine Maury, who resigned his commission as a U.S. Navy officer at the outbreak of the Civil War and joined the Confederacy.
She also cited the guided-missile cruiser Antietam, named after the Civil War battle, as an example of a ship whose name could be considered.
“We’re going to have to get through the process of working through, with the services, what was the historical context of the naming, was it meant to commemorate the Confederacy, or was there another purpose behind the naming?” Howard said.
A reporter asked why the Antietam might need to be renamed, since the Union claimed it as a victory, which was soon followed by President Abraham Lincoln releasing the Emancipation Proclamation. Some historians consider Antietam, one of the bloodiest battles in American history, a stalemate.
“That’s a great question, because it depends on whether or not you see Antietam as a Union victory,” Howard said. “Does it honor the Confederacy in any way? And so that needs more exploration behind what the ship was named [for].”
She said the commission will also consider the intentions of those who made the choice at the time of an asset’s naming.
The Navy ship Chancellorsville is also named after the 1863 battle won by Confederate Gens. Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, though Howard did not refer to that ship in the conference. A Navy task force earlier this year called for renaming assets such as the Chancellorsville that honor the Confederacy.
Howard said the commission is not just considering installations named for people who served the Confederacy, but names that commemorate it in other ways. For example, she said, Fort Belvoir is named after the plantation it was built on.
The commission will send Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Congress a plan for renaming installations — including suggestions for new names — but it will be up to the SecDef to choose how to implement the plan and which new names to choose.
Howard said the commission is already receiving letters with suggestions for new names, although no active-duty troops have made recommendations so far. She said the commission will hold on to those suggestions until the time comes for deciding new names.
Howard said the NDAA ordered the commission to build an inventory of military assets, such as bases, installations, buildings, ships, aircraft and equipment, bearing names that commemorate the Confederacy.
Grave markers are exempt, she said, and the commission is not looking at museums or artifacts within museums. But if a museum has an exhibit that commemorates the Confederacy or someone who willingly served it, Howard said the commission expects that to be brought to its attention.
The Army is the main service supporting the commission, Howard said, and has ordered its components to start surveying installations and preparing lists of what might need to be changed, including smaller assets such as street names.
The commission is developing the criteria for whether and how it will rename installations, and is discussing and reviewing the military’s guidance for naming installations.
Howard said the commission will next meet with leadership at installations, some of whom have already started planning for a possible renaming. The commission also has plans to visit the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, and the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis.
During these visits to installations, the commission will meet with local civic leaders and others who have a stake in the decision to rename them. Howard said the commission will take local sensitivities into account.
Base commanders typically have strong ties to their communities, Howard said, and the commission will have them set up conversations with local stakeholders. The commission will also reach out to district lawmakers.
She added that the commission’s mandate limits it to looking only at defense assets with names tied to the Confederacy, saying that looking at other assets named for officials with questionable racial histories — such as the aircraft carrier Carl Vinson, named for a staunch segregationist — would fall outside of its mandate.
The commission has also started to talk to the National Guard to get an understanding of which of its bases might commemorate the Confederacy. The commission does not cover those Guard installations that fall under state authority.
The Louisiana National Guard’s Camp Beauregard, named for Confederate Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard, is an example of an installation that does not fall under the commission’s authority, Howard said.
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