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Brooklyn pols push for renaming of Confederate general-inspired Fort Hamilton streets

Fort Hamilton. (Wikimedia Commons)

BY KEVIN DUGGAN

As demonstrations in support of the Black Lives Matter movement continue around the world, a group of Brooklyn politicians is calling for the renaming of two streets inside the Fort Hamilton Army Base currently named after Confederate generals.

Bay Ridge Representative Max Rose — an Army veteran — and his Flatbush colleague Congresswoman Yvette Clarke demanded Thursday that the military rename General Lee Avenue and Stonewall Jackson Drive inside the southern Brooklyn base after Black Americans instead.

“American history provides a proud litany of African-American heroes, including many brave Brooklynites, who fought in the service of our country to uphold the core principle of democracy: that all men are created equal,” reads a June 11 letter by the federal politicians to US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper. “US military bases and property should be named after men and women who’ve served our nation with honor and distinction, not sought to tear it apart to uphold white supremacy.”

Robert E. Lee, the commander of the Confederate States Army during the Civil War, was stationed at the Brooklyn Army base as a military engineer before the conflict in the 1840s. Thomas Jonathan “Stonewall” Jackson, a Confederate lieutenant general, also served at Fort Hamilton.

Amid the controversy surrounding many Confederate monuments around the country, the Army’s Secretary Ryan McCarthy reportedly said through a spokesperson he was “open” to renaming bases and facilities named after leaders for the Civil War secessionists, citing the recent killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer as changing his mind, after he had previously declined to change the names.

But President Donald Trump fired back on social media saying he would not allow the bases to be rechristened because they had become part of the country’s heritage and that they were “hallowed ground.”

“These Monumental and very Powerful Bases have become part of a Great American Heritage, and a history of Winning, Victory, and Freedom,” the Commander-in-Chief tweeted on June 10. “The United States of America trained and deployed our HEROES on these Hallowed Grounds, and won two World Wars. Therefore, my Administration will not even consider the renaming of these Magnificent and Fabled Military Installations.”

The Brooklyn representatives called out Trump, saying that the southern generals who fought to secede from the Union and maintain slavery should not be honored.

“Shiloh, Antietam, and Gettysburg are hallowed ground, places where Americans gave their lives to end the practice of slavery in our country; bases named after men who sought to keep their fellow men and women in bondage are not,” Rose and Clarke said in the letter.

On Thursday, Mayor Bill de Blasio joined in the chorus calling for the street name changes.

“[The] notion of the man who used military might to try to protect enslavement, that we would in anywhere in this country and in our armed forces, our national government would in any way, elevate and respect a man who fought to protect slavery and harm fellow human beings, his name should be taken off everything in America, period,” de Blasio said at his daily press briefing Thursday. 

A spokesman for the Department of Defense noted that Trump’s tweet only referenced Army Base names, not street names within the facilities, but referred a request for further comment to the Army’s press office, which did not respond by press time. 

Clarke and other lawmakers, including Borough President Eric Adams and Councilman Justin Brannan, previously called for the Army to rename General Lee Avenue, but the soldiers rejected them, most recently in 2017, saying the roads honor fighters who were “an inextricable part of our military history,” the Daily News reported at the time.

There also used to be a plaque paying homage to a maple tree General Lee planted outside the St. Johns Episcopal Church in Bay Ridge, where he worshipped during his time stationed there, but church officials took it down in 2017, DNAinfo reported.

Brannan also renewed his call to rename the streets on Thursday.

“The time has come to rename these streets,” the Bay Ridge pol tweeted. “It is long overdue.”

This story first appeared on BrooklynPaper.com

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