Podcast # 11: Should statues and Military installations named after historical figures with ties to slavery and The Confederacy be removed or renamed?

In recent years and even going back decades in some instances, there has been a call to remove statues and to rename military bases that depict the likeness or the name of historical figures with ties to slavery. The fierce debate on this has become heightened in recent months. The American Public has been divided over this. This is in no way a one discussion topic that is easily settled. What the hope is for this particular discussion is to shed light on the story of these historical figures and what these individuals did during their life time. I have to admit, when it came to the names of Military Installments throughout the United States, my knowledge base was pretty limited. Like most people, you hear the names of bases thrown around in the news. Aside from Robert E. Lee, I couldn’t have had a discussion on any of these individuals prior to my research. I was surprised by what I found.

The US Army has 10 Installations named after Confederate military commanders. There are also some Navy ships named after Confederate officers or battles.

“The naming was done in the spirit of reconciliation, not to demonstrate support for any particular cause or ideology.” Armytimes.com

Timing matters! West Point named Barracks after Gen. Robert E. Lee, a 1829 graduate in the early 1960s. There are barracks named after Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., a 1936 graduate who was a Tuskegee Airmen and the FIRST African American General Officer in the Air Force.

Military Installations:

Fort A.P. Hill: Ambrose Powell Hill Jr. – located in Virginia – began as a WWII training ground. Ambrose Powell Hill Jr. was a Confederate General who died in battle 1 week before the South surrendered.

Camp Beauregard: Louisiana - began as training space during WWII.

Pierre Gustave Toutant – Beauregard - Confederate General who served in the Army during the Mexican American war.

Fort Benning – GA – began as basic training ground during WWI

Henry Benning was a Confederate General and fought at the battles of Antietam & Gettysburg

Fort Bragg – N.C. largest Military Installation in the world. Began as an Artillery training ground during WWI.

Braxton Bragg – Confederate General; Army officer who served in the Second Seminole War, Mexican – American War.

Fort Gordon – John Brown Gordon

GA – training site for WWI. One of Robert E. Lee’s most trusted Generals

Fort Hood: TX – tank testing ground during WWII

John Bell Hood – Confederate Military Officer.

Fort Polk: Louisiana – est. during WWII

Leonidas Polk Episcopal Bishop in Louisiana and became a Confederate General. Killed in action in 1864. 2nd cousin of James K. Polk. Resigned his religious post to be a Major General in the Confederate Army.

Fort Rucker: - Alabama est. during WWII –

Edmund Rucker was given honorary title of General. Was captured in 1864 & General Nathan Bedford Forest (1st Grand Wizard of the KKK) organized his release. Grandson of General Winchester Veteran of the Revolutionary War & War of 1812. When the Civil war ended he returned to his home state of Tennessee and resumed Railroad work with Nathan Bedford Forest. Moved to Alabama, eventually became what we would refer to as an Industrial Tycoon – dealing with coal, steel land and even the banking business.

Fort Lee – VA est. during the Civil War

Robert E. Lee

Reputation as one of the greatest military leaders in history.

Helped to run West Point, he was an alumnus, a military career. Known for fighting in the Mexican- American War, John Brown to surrender in 1859 in Harper’s Ferry, Battle of Gettysburg, Surrender at Appamatox Courthouse, VA to General Grant.

Didn’t support secession but couldn’t turn his back on Virginia. When Virginia seceded, Robert E. Lee commanded the Confederate Army.

Fort Pickett – VA est. WWII

George Pickett – led infantry assault against Union soldiers at Gettysburg – resulted in significant losses for the Confederate Army.

July 1, 2020 Author Timothy Bella The Washington Post

740 Billion annual Defense Bill

National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA)

One of the provisions in the Defense Bill, would change the name of the 10 military bases named after Confederate generals. It would also remove any confederate likenesses and symbols from defense facilities nationwide within 3 years. President Trump threatened to VETO the Bill if that provision is not removed.

A Historical footnote is necessary here. Southern Confederate Military Leaders:

It’s important to understand the Allegiance individuals had prior to the Civil War. If you study many primary source documents, you will find the wording interesting. In many documents written prior to the Civil War you will see the phrase “The United States Are…” being used. If you look at documents written after the civil war you will see “The United States is” being used instead. One is plural and other singular. After the Civil War in primary source documents, that wording change from The United States are to the United States is – shows the departure from thinking The US is a loose alliance of states but one United country. That change in that one word is extremely significant. Prior to the Civil War, if you asked many of the historical figures where they were from, they would answer “I am from Virginia, I am from Delaware, I am from New York, I am from Georgia.” Very few, if any would say “I am from the United States of America”. The allegiance and ties to one’s state was extremely important. So much so, that when Abraham Lincoln personally asked Robert E. Lee to lead the Union Army, his response was “I cannot turn my back on Virginia”. His allegiance to his state was greater than to that of his country. When we talk about causes of the Civil War, we often talk about sectional conflicts. These sectional conflicts very easily dictated the pros and cons that each side had during the civil war. For example, the North had more factories, they had an easier time with supplies, The North had more railroad lines, they could move their supplies easier. The South had a much stronger Military tradition than the North did and as a result, the greatest Military Generals at the time, sided with the South.

When the South lost the Civil War and it came time for Reconciliation, there were many debates as to how Reconstruction should go. Should Confederate leaders be punished? Should they be banned from ever holding office again? The time frame of Reconstruction lasts from 1865-1877. If you think about ALL that needed to be done Politically, Economically and Socially to rebuild and Reconstruct the South and really the entire country after the Civil War, 12 years isn’t close to being enough. Reconstruction ends in 1877 not because they finished the work they set out to complete, but because it was Politically advantageous for them to. The Compromise of 1877 is something most people have never heard of. It was a backroom deal established by a number of US Senators that ended the disputed 1876 Presidential election between Samuel J. Tilden (a Democrat - who won the popular vote) and Rutherford B. Hayes a Republican. Neither candidate got the magic number needed in the Electoral College. The Compromise made Hayes the President as long as certain conditions were met: Removal of the remaining Union troops in Southern States, give federal aid to the South and approve the creation of a southern line of the Transcontinental Railroad. The removal of Federal Troops, solidified Southern Democratic control over Southern States. Many new rights and freedoms of Black Americans were severely limited and in most cases taken away completely. Black Americans were left to fend for themselves against State Governments that wanted nothing more than to infringe upon their rights, make them Second Class citizen in every sense possible and then had a Federal Government that did very little if anything to stop it for decades.

Consider some essential dates:

1865: End of the Civil War

1877: End of Reconstruction

Civil Rights Act of 1964 – outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion etc. prohibited unequal voter registration, segregation in schools, work force, public places.

Voting Rights Act of 1965: ended literacy tests, poll taxes etc.

Why has American Society not been able to own up to its past? Why is that when history is taught, it is taught from a Eurocentric Perspective? Why are we still painting some Ancient Civilizations to be savages? A Lesser than society? Representation Matters. Being able to see a version of yourself in mass media, in children’s books, in your teachers, your Business Leaders, your elected officials this is essential.

I can speak from an Educator’s perspective; how important it is for students to learn about historical figures of all skin tones. School curriculums around the country need to do a better job of teaching Latin, African, Indigenous and Asian and Middle Eastern Studies with the same type of passion that European and American Studies have been taught. Children of all races need to see and hear about the Greatness of Heroes in a variety of races and gender. We need to have more People of Color becoming Educators. I saw either an Instagram or Fb post I forget which, where the question was asked “What grade were you in when you had a teacher of a different race?” It wasn’t until I was in College. How??? For many of my High School Students, I was the only Female teacher they had that year. So many of my female students would tell me how important it was for them to have a female teacher who was so strong and had that I can do anything attitude. Now, if we take those sentiments and we put it in the scenario of a child who has never had a person of color as their teacher? Look at that void? If we move that scenario to our Monuments, statues, schools and Universities that are named after Historical Figures with ties to slavery?

Why does a society erect, monuments, statues, name Buildings after Dead People? To honor them? Their legacy? Accomplishments? Because they gave a ton of money? Some historical figures have had their legacy given massive amounts of Plastic Surgery. Rewritten to serve an organization’s purpose.

When people speak of Christopher Columbus with such positivity, it lacks an understanding of the full picture. As an Italian American, I will be the first person to say that that historical figure doesn’t do it for me. Upon his return to Spain from The New World (Which wasn’t New to the Indigenous people that had lived here for Centuries) he was jailed for how cruel he was to the Natives. He and his brothers were eventually released and had their wealth restored by the King and Queen of Spain. He was never allowed to be Governor again. The man died never knowing he found a new world. Till the day he died, he thought he found a faster route to the West Indies. He was brought back into prominence by The Knights of Columbus. They were looking for a patron other than a saint that would bolster pride for Catholics and immigrant groups who were largely ostracized by majority groups like White Anglo Saxon Protestants. One of the concepts I always asked my students to consider was to what extent could the Spanish conquest of The Americas be considered an American Holocaust? In recent years, many cities throughout the United States chose to celebrate Indigenous People’s Day instead of traditional Columbus Day celebrations. Choosing to highlight the history, traditions and contributions of the indigenous people of that area.

The Statue of President Theodore Roosevelt in front of The Museum of Natural History in NYC depicts Roosevelt on horseback with a Native American man and an African man standing on either side of the horse. The statue has been there since 1940. Some feel the statue depicts colonialism and racial hierarchy. Roosevelt, aside from being a former President was a great Conservationist. We have him to thank for our beautiful National Parks. He was also a former Governor of New York and his descendants were instrumental in the creation of the Museum and Theodore Roosevelt IV currently sits on the Museums Board of Directors. The statue was created by James Earle Fraser. The artist explained that the individuals represent continents (The Americas and Africa) as opposed to individuals. The notion that Theodore Roosevelt is a racist is just not true or fair comment to make. President Theodore Roosevelt had a great Relationship with Booker T. Washington and during his Presidency (In 1901, Booker T. Washington was invited to eat dinner at the White House with Roosevelt and his family, it caused quite the controversy at the time. 1901, Minnie Cox, was the first African American Female Post Master General. Art is often interpreted in different ways. In 1999, the first calls to remove this statue began and have continued on and off. In June of 2020, the museum announced the statue would be removed and that The Hall of Biodiversity would be named after President Roosevelt instead.

Statues of Presidents such as Washington and Thomas Jefferson as well as other early American Presidents who were also slave owners are also seeing protests and damage being done to their statues. When it comes to US Presidents, I think we need to do a better job of talking about the WHOLE Story. Yes, these are individuals who are important to our Nation’s History and have done many great things, but we also need to talk about that they were also slave owners. Discuss the conditions and evils of slavery. What they did or didn’t do to try to right those wrongs. Taking down statues, doesn’t erase the fact that they were slave owners or that slavery existed during the time in which they lived and people are products of the time in which they live. Taking down statues also doesn’t remove their significance to American History, it simply removes the statue.

In NYC we have a history of getting rid of statues of historical figures. Once Upon a time there was a statue of King George III. In July of 1776, the Declaration of Independence was a read to a crowd in NYC. The crowd was so moved that a group of them went and pulled the statue of the King down. It was later melted down and the lead was used to make bullets for the Revolutionary War.

Having the backstory and an understanding of the historical and cultural significance of our country’s past is essential.

“My father always used to say, "Don't raise your voice. Improve your argument." Good sense does not always lie with the loudest shouters, nor can we say that a large, unruly crowd is always the best arbiter of what is right.”

― Desmond Tutu

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