Something that has not been in the news lately, for a variety of reasons, is the issue of federal statues and monuments on public lands, state and federal, honoring the Confederacy. At various times during the 20th and 21st centuries, such public monuments have been major points of contention. We were reminded of this fact by the federal judge’s order this week blocking the dismantlement of the large Confederate Memorial now residing in the Arlington National Cemetery for American heroes. It is only a temporary restraining order, to be sure, and it is certain to be overturned either by that same judge or another one. But the event was (is) striking.
The judge blocked The U.S. Army from taking down the bronze statue, which had been unveiled in 1914 that featured a bronze woman, crowned with olive leaves, standing on a 32-foot pedestal, designed to represent the American South. Featured in the graphics on the statue are a Black woman depicted as a handkerchief head-wearing "mammy" holding what is said to be the child of a White officer, and an enslaved man who is following his owner to war.
Between 1900 and the 1940’s, mainly sponsored by the Daughters of the Confederacy, a private lobby group, over 200 such monuments and statues, including the large one in the Arlington National Cemetery, lionized “heroes” of the Confederacy. Statues of Robert E. Lee were everywhere in America, particularly in the South, in state and local government courtyards, cemeteries, and military bases. The aim was to continue pushing “The Lost Cause” false idea that the South had fought a gallant, noble and legitimate fight for the right of all U.S. citizens, and though it lost, its heroes should be prioritized and spread all over the country. This tactic was a part of an overall policy of subverting the Black population during and after the Jim Crow era through fostering the teaching of bad and racist American history.
This has been and still is a major field of contention in the country. At least five Confederate monuments were removed from the Capital between 1865 and 2014, eight in the two years after the 2015 Charleston church shooting, 48 in the three years after the 2017 Unite the Right rally (the one in which Mr. Trump as POTUS said involved good and bad people on both sides), and at least 110 statues in the two years after George Floyd's 2020 murder.
Though at present there is federal legislation (the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) requiring the renaming of federal installations with Confederate-hero names, the Southern Poverty Law Center, which studies this issue, now says there are still at least 723 Confederate monuments and memorials that stand in the US and its territories. There are also at least 741 roadways, 201 schools, 51 buildings, 38 parks and 22 holidays still honoring the Confederacy.
More than 160 monuments and memorials to the Confederate States of America (CSA; the Confederacy) and associated figures have been removed from public spaces in the United States, most of them since 2015. Some have been removed by state and local governments, while protestors have removed the others.
Proponents of their removal have often cited the conclusion that the monuments were not built as memorials to American greatness, but instead to intimidate African-Americans and reaffirm White supremacy after the Civil War; plus the statues and memorials celebrate what was essentially an illegitimate and treasonous government,
In 2021, based on a provision in the NDAA, Congress created The Naming Commission in order to rename military assets (including military bases) that currently have names associated with the Confederacy. The United States Secretary of Defense was required to implement a plan developed by the commission and to "remove all names, symbols, displays, monuments, and paraphernalia that honor or commemorate the Confederate States of America or any person who served voluntarily with the Confederate States of America from all assets of the Department of Defense within three years of the commission's creation.
During the world wars, the United States established numerous military bases in former states of the Confederacy that were named after Confederate military figures. Calls to rename the bases occurred sporadically during the 2010s, but the NDAA finally provided a vehicle to get this done.
In 2015, the Pentagon declared it would not rename any military installations named after Confederate generals, saying "the original naming occurred in the spirit of reconciliation, not division", and declined to make further comment when the issue was reraised in 2017. But following the June 2020 nationwide protests over the murder of George Floyd by a police officer, the federal government began rethinking its traditional connection to Confederate Army symbols, including bases. Partially due to provisions allowing Confederate-named bases to be renamed. Though the POTUS at the time (Trump) vetoed the bill, Congress overrode him and the NDAA became law.
Finally, In 2021, per a provision in the NDAA, Congress created The Naming Commission in order to rename military assets with names associated with the Confederacy. The United States Secretary of Defense was required to implement a plan developed by the commission and to "remove all names, symbols, displays, monuments, and paraphernalia that honored or commemorated the Confederate States of America or any person who served voluntarily with the Confederate States of America from all assets of the Department of Defense" within three years of the commission's creation.
Based on this law, there are so far nine major U.S. military bases that were formerly named in honor of Confederate military leaders, all in former Confederate States, which have now been renamed(in 2023). These include Fort Benning in Georgia (renamed Ft. Moore), Fort Bragg in North Carolina (renamed Fort Liberty), Fort Gordon in Georgia (renamed Fort Eisenhower), Fort A.P. Hill in Virginia (renamed Ft. Mary Edwards Walker), and Fort Hood in Texas (renamed Ft. Richard Cavazos). There are still more than 30 more to be renamed. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has pledged to get the job finished before the end of his term.
That is a worthy endeavor.
Professor David L. Horne is founder and executive director of PAPPEI, the Pan African Public Policy and Ethical Institute, which is a new 501(c)(3) pending community-based organization or non-governmental organization (NGO). It is the stepparent organization for the California Black Think Tank which still operates and which meets every fourth Friday.
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