Esper, Army secretary open to conversation on renaming posts named for Confederate generals
by Corey Dickstein,
Stars and Stripes
WASHINGTON - Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy are open to starting a conversation about changing the names of 10 of the service’s posts named for prominent Confederate generals from the Civil War, Army officials said June 9.
McCarthy wants to have a “bipartisan discussion” about the controversial issue, the official said. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, didn’t provide further details, including what sparked McCarthy’s willingness to discuss the topic.
Esper also supports such a discussion about changing the installation names, officials said. Esper was McCarthy’s predecessor as Army secretary.
It marks a substantial change in the Army’s position on the naming of the 10 Army posts: Camp Beauregard and Fort Polk in Louisiana; Fort Benning and Fort Gordon in Georgia; Fort Bragg in North Carolina; Fort A.P. Hill, Fort Lee and Fort Pickett in Virginia; Fort Rucker in Alabama, and Fort Hood in Texas. The installations were named primarily during the south’s Jim Crow era in the 1910s and 1940s.
As recently as February, Army officials said the service had no intentions of addressing the topic of the naming of its installations. A service spokesperson said some posts were named for Confederate generals in “the spirit of reconciliation” and not in “support for any particular cause or ideology.”
“The Army has a tradition of naming installations and streets after historical figures of military significance, including former Union and Confederate general officers,” an Army spokesperson said in a statement at that time.
The apparent change in thinking, first reported by Politico, comes as demonstrators across the United States have held protests to systemic racism and police brutality. Uprisings in all 50 states and in Washington, D.C., were sparked by the May 25 death of a handcuffed black man, George Floyd, by a Minneapolis police officer, who has since been fired and charged with second-degree murder.
A second Army official pointed to those events and a June 3 memorandum issued by McCarthy, Gen. James McConville, the service chief of staff, and Sgt. Maj. of the Army Michael Grinston, its top enlisted soldier, as driving the willingness to discuss installation names. In the memo, the leaders acknowledge racism exists in the Army and pledged to listen to soldiers about those issues.
“Over the past week, the country has suffered an explosion of frustration over the racial divisions that still plague us as Americans. And because your Army is a reflection of American society, those divisions live in the Army as well,” they wrote. “We feel the frustration and anger.”
The change in stance towards the Army’s long-held installation names also comes as the Marine Corps implements a ban on the Confederate battle flag on its bases. (see graphic, page 4)
“This symbol has shown it has the power to inflame feelings of division,” Gen. David Berger, the Marine commandant, wrote in an April letter to Marines. “I cannot have that division inside our Corps.”
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