Replacing Confederate names on military bases is underway. It could take years to finish.
The federal commission charged with recommending new names for Fort Bragg and eight other military bases across the South now named for Confederate officers is getting thousands of suggestions.
The commission began taking suggestions from the public last month on its website, and has been visiting base communities as part of its charge to take into account local preferences. The commission’s chairwoman is a retired admiral, Michelle Howard.
“We have heard directly from local chambers of commerce, historical genealogy societies, rotary clubs, school board officials, local national special interest groups, church leaders, business and many other organizations,” Howard said.
She was speaking during an online news conference Thursday after the commission submitted a progress report to Congress. Its final recommendations are due in a year. Howard said the commission will stop accepting suggestions Dec. 1 and begin narrowing the list. Names starting to emerge fall into several categories. Those of people like heroes or key leaders associated with a base, inspiring words like victory, some aspect of local geography, or something that describes the base’s military role.
Fort Bragg, for example, is gathering suggestions and running a Facebook poll on some, including: Fort Liberty, Fort Sandhills, Airborne and Special Operations Base.
And some locals have suggested the military could save money by simply saying Fort Bragg is now named for Union General Edward Bragg of Wisconsin instead of his cousin, Confederate General Braxton Bragg.
Howard said the commission will consider all suggestions, but a similar idea came up during a community meeting at Fort Gordon in Georgia, and wasn’t universally popular.
“I will tell you, there were other members of the community then who then stood up and said – You know, if you do that, there's some of us who would like to see new names and if you use the same name, even with a different human, in a different context of time, then you almost undo what they thought the intention of the law is,” Howard said. “So, I took that to heart, hearing a member of the community say that.”
The idea also doesn’t impress Dan McNeill, a retired four-star general who held a host of roles at Fort Bragg. McNeill helps lead a citizen’s committee assembled by base leaders to act as liaison to the community on the renaming.
“Is that all you got? What’s the connection with Fort Bragg? He was a Union guy? I mean, I think we can do better than that,” McNeill said. “I think we need to work a little harder. We need to think.”
During a virtual town hall last month for Fort Bragg, local residents offered several ideas.
Vicki Andrews was one of two people to lobby for Dr. Mary Walker, the only woman to win the Medal of Honor.
“She worked for the Union Army, but she also cared for Confederate soldiers. And so, in all the things that you have to consider… It’s 2021,” Andrews said. “We need to make sure we at least consider this powerful woman.”
“I think we need to work a little harder. We need to think.”Dan McNeill, retired four-star general
That town hall drew several angry text comments against renaming the base at all. Things have been tamer in some base towns, though. William Cooper is the mayor of Enterprise, Alabama, one of several municipalities that encircle Fort Rucker.
“Well, from what I have observed, really, and truly has not been much talk about it,” he said.
Cooper said locals want input, and have offered several ideas. But the important things are that the base’s military role and its overwhelming local economic impact aren’t changing.
“We will just continue to support the base, whatever the name is,” Cooper said. “Of course, its mission is to train aviators, so, really and truly that won’t have no effect on that, you know. So whatever name is all right with us.”
And whatever that new name turns out to be, it and the others have to be in place by 2024.