A Congressional commission has recommended that nine Army bases named for Confederate leaders be renamed to honor women and soldiers of color, among others.
Established as part of the defense authorization bill last January in the wake of nationwide demonstrations against racial injustice after the police killing of George Floyd, the Naming Commission is tasked with renaming or removing “names, symbols, displays, monuments and paraphernalia” that commemorate the Confederacy or any person who served voluntarily with the Confederate States of America.
In addition to the nine Army bases, it found more than 750 Defense Department assets that honor the Confederacy, including street names and monuments.
Rooted in Our History of Racial Injustice
The Army bases up for renaming were built in former Confederate states during the first half of the 20th century—the same period when white Southerners installed hundreds of monuments to the Confederacy as part of a concerted effort to redeem their defeat and build cultural support for the re-establishment of white supremacy.
Confederate monuments that romanticized and glorified the effort to preserve slavery often received political endorsements from outside the South, including from the federal government. The North’s appeasement of white Southerners included actively funding the creation of a cultural landscape designed to perpetuate white supremacy and the racial subordination of Black people.
Naming Army bases after Confederate officers with local connections—often “with input from regional leaders and groups who sympathized with the rebel cause,” as The Washington Post reported—was part of this effort.
“Army leaders, to say nothing of political figures at the time, undoubtedly wanted to ingratiate themselves with the southern states in which the forts were located,” retired Army Gen. David Petraeus wrote in an op-ed in the Atlantic. “They bowed to—and in many cases shared—the Lost Cause nostalgia that also sponsored so much civilian statuary, street naming, and memorial building from the end of Reconstruction through the 1930s, when the trend tapered off but did not end completely.”
The Army’s glorification of Confederate leaders played a vital role in restoring the racial hierarchy they fought to preserve—and its legacy continues to burden Black servicemembers today.
“We are forcing our Black soldiers to serve on a base named after leaders who served to keep them in chains,” Iraq War veteran Fred Wellman told Vox.
“I learned to fly helicopters at Ft. Rucker. I deployed to Iraq from Ft. Bragg, and I earned my jump wings at Ft. Benning. All these bases honored men who wouldn’t want me or other Black Americans serving in uniform, let alone in Congress,” Rep. Anthony Brown (D-MD), a retired Army colonel and vice-chair of the House Armed Services Committee, said in a statement.
He told Vox, “Bases that continue to bear the names of Confederate soldiers and officers—persons who wrongly fought to protect the institution of slavery and would have denied black Americans from serving in the military—are a reminder of that systemic oppression we continue to confront and damages the culture of inclusivity needed to accomplish the mission.”
New Names Honor Diverse Group of Heroes
After receiving more than 34,000 submissions from the public, the commission reviewed 3,670 names and narrowed the list to fewer than 100. They gathered feedback from installation visits and community listening sessions before deliberating final name recommendations and making their selections last month.
“This was an exhaustive process that entailed hundreds of hours of research, community engagement and internal deliberations,” retired Navy Adm. Michelle Howard, commission chair, told The New York Times. “This recommendation list includes American heroes whose stories deserve to be told and remembered; people who fought and sacrificed greatly on behalf of our nation.”
Fort Polk in Louisiana, named after enslaver and Confederate Lt. Gen. Leonidas Polk, is to become Fort Johnson, after Henry Johnson, a private with the 369th Infantry Regiment of the 93rd Division, a group of Black national guardsmen from Harlem, New York, hailed as the Harlem Hellfighters.
On May 13, 1918, Private Johnson was part of a five-man patrol that was attacked by a raiding party of 24 German soldiers. He was shot several times and seriously wounded but continued to fight, preventing the Germans from taking his fellow private as a prisoner and ultimately forcing them to retreat.
Private Johnson was promoted to sergeant and became one of the first Americans to be awarded the Croix de Guerre Avec Palme, France’s award for the highest valor, for his bravery during what was widely reported as the “Battle of Henry Johnson.” He was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart in 1996 and the Distinguished Service Cross in 2002.
Fort Lee in Virginia, named after Robert E. Lee, will be renamed Fort Gregg-Adams, after retired Lt. Gen. Arthur Gregg and Lt. Col. Charity Adams. Gregg enlisted in 1945, when he was 17 years old, and excelled in supply logistics, helping the Army rebuild devastated areas in occupied Germany. He rose to logistics director for the Joint Chiefs of Staff and as Deputy Chief of Staff for Logistics for the Army, becoming one of the highest ranking African Americans in the Army.
In 1944, Lt. Col. Charity Adams Earley was selected to command the first unit of Black women to serve overseas—the 6888th Central Postal Directory in England, which was responsible for delivering mail to and from nearly seven million American soldiers fighting in Europe. Her unit handled some 65,000 letters each day; it took three units of men to replace her battalion after they disbanded. But gender discrimination limited her promotion to lieutenant colonel, the highest rank attainable by any woman during the war.
Fort Hood in Texas is to become Fort Cavazos, after Gen. Richard Cavazos, who grew up on a Texas ranch during the Great Depression and earned his first Distinguished Service Cross as a young officer in the Korean War. He became the first Hispanic Army four-star general and retired after sustaining, training, and deploying all the Army’s deployable forces as the head of the U.S. Army Forces Command.
Fort Pickett in Virginia is to be renamed Fort Barfoot, for Col. Van T. Barfoot, a Choctaw Indian from Mississippi who received the Medal of Honor after single-handedly taking out three German machine gun positions in Northern Italy during World War II and, later the same day, using a bazooka to destroy a tank and then supporting two wounded soldiers to treatment nearly a mile over exposed ground.
No Army base names currently honor women, even though women made up more than 15% of the Army and more than 34% of its civilian workers in 2021, according to Smithsonian Magazine. In addition to Lt. Col. Charity Adams, two more women are to have bases named in their honor.
Fort A.P. Hill in Virginia is to become Fort Walker, named after Dr. Mary Walker, a strong abolitionist and advocate for women’s rights and equality who in 1863 became the first female surgeon in Army history. She continued to serve after she was captured by Confederates and imprisoned for four months in Richmond, and in 1865, she received the Medal of Honor.
Fort Benning in Georgia is to be renamed Fort Moore, in commemoration of Lt. Gen. Hal Moore and Julia Moore, recognizing the service and sacrifices of military families. While her husband served in Vietnam, Julia Moore reformed the Army’s policy for notifying families that their loved ones have been injured or killed.
Dwight D. Eisenhower, a five-star general before he became president, will be commemorated with the renaming of Fort Gordon in Georgia, which is named after Lt. Gen. John Brown Gordon, who was widely known as the head of Georgia’s Ku Klux Klan.
Fort Rucker in Alabama is to become Fort Novosel, after Michael Novosel, a 42-year-old lieutenant colonel in the Air Force Reserve who resigned his commission in order to serve as a helicopter pilot in Vietnam. After he received the Medal of Honor for medically evacuating 29 wounded men while under heavy fire, he continued serving in Army aviation and evacuated his son when he was shot down over Vietnam. The father and son’s “combined service honors generational service,” the commission wrote.
The largest military installation in the world by population is named after enslaver and Confederate Gen. Braxton Bragg. Fort Bragg in North Carolina is to be renamed Fort Liberty—the only recommendation that commemorates a concept rather than a person. The commission wrote that “Fort Liberty symbolizes the U.S. Army’s defense of liberty for almost 250 years.”
The commission’s recommendations will be included in a written report to the House Armed Services Committee and Senate Armed Services Committee due October 1, 2022. Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III has the final authority to order base renaming, which is to be implemented by January 1, 2024.