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The entrance to Fort Bragg is shown in this undated file photo.
The entrance to Fort Bragg is shown in this undated file photo. (Logan Mock-Bunting/Getty Images)

FORT BRAGG, N.C. (Tribune News Service) — Fayetteville and Cumberland County residents weighed in Tuesday on the process to rename Fort Bragg, with suggestions to keep the name, rename it after Braxton Bragg's cousin or consider naming it after a woman.

Camp Bragg was established in 1918 as a field artillery installation and named after North Carolina native Braxton Bragg, an artillery officer known for his role in the 1847 Battle of Buena Vista, Mexico, said Linda Carnes-McNaughton, Fort Bragg's curator and archaeologist.

He later served as a Confederate general.

Braxton Bragg is associated with slavery and being a traitor for fighting against the Union Army, said retired Maj. Gen. Rodney Anderson, who served at Fort Bragg for 14 years of his 33-year Army career including serving as a deputy commander for the 18th Airborne Corps.

"It has taken us 100 years to recognize that there is a pain associated with a war that was fought to keep people of color — Black people — enslaved," Anderson said.

Anderson, who is Black, said that brings him "a level of pain" because Braxton Bragg is not who he would think of when choosing to honor someone in the military.

Col. Scott Pence, Fort Bragg's garrison commander, reiterated that the decision to rename Fort Bragg was not made by its commanders, installation management command, Department of Defense, city, county or state officials.

The decision, Pence said, was mandated by Congress.

Fayetteville Mayor Pro Tem Kathy Jensen, who helped coordinate Tuesday's town hall meeting, said residents' voices on the renaming matters.

"Fort Bragg could have made this decision to select a new name without community input, but the military leaders believe that your input is very important," Jensen said.

Vikki Andrews, an Army veteran and former chairwoman of the Cumberland County Democratic Party, is one of the residents who provided a suggestion.

Andrews asked officials to consider naming Fort Bragg after Dr. Mary Walker.

Walker is the only woman to receive the Medal of Honor, Andrews said.

"She worked for the Union Army, but she also cared for Confederate soldiers," Andrews said.

Walker wasn't the only woman whose name was suggested.

Retired Army and Fort Bragg veteran Gerard Falls, who is now dean of students at Capitol Encore Academy in Fayetteville, recommended the names of two women.

Falls recommended Harriet Tubman or Eleanor Roosevelt.

Tubman, Falls said, commanded troops in the Combahee River Raid, leading 150 Black Union soldiers to help free more than 700 enslaved people.

Roosevelt, he said, was a humanitarian, first lady and civil rights leader who advocated for racial integration in the military and worked to serve refugees during World War II.

"My priority with the renaming of Fort Bragg ... is that we identify candidates for the honor — if it is going to be a person — who have a local connection to the region, are diverse in background and identity and have dedicated their lives to advancing liberty and justice for all and a more perfect union," he said.

Grilley Mitchell, president of the Cumberland County Veterans Council, said he was not speaking on behalf of all veterans, but he did speak on behalf of veterans he has spoken to who were unable to make the meeting.

"We want a name that everyone would be proud of," Mitchell said. "We want a name that we all agree upon."

Mitchell said based on conversations he's had with other veterans, renaming the installation after Edward S. Bragg would lessen the economic impact and have little impact on those who have served at Fort Bragg or were born at Fort Bragg.

Edward S. Bragg was a Union general and a cousin to Braxton Bragg.

"That's a decision that also belongs to the men and women who have served this nation as well as their family members, because they paid the price to have that choice, to make that decision and most of all, I don't think that we will find a name that everyone is going to be happy with," Mitchell said.

Other community members who commented online during the town hall meeting or were at the town hall meeting raised concerns about costs associated with the name change and how it would impact local businesses that use Bragg in their name, such as Fort Bragg Credit Union or Fort Bragg Harley Davidson.

Fort Bragg military spouse Emily Sussman said she understands "the cultural injury that comes from honoring Confederate soldiers," but said she understands renaming Fort Bragg could cost millions.

She asked how spending that money could be justified when it could be used to serve Fayetteville and the military community.

Sussman said she is also concerned about the local small businesses and streets with Bragg in their names.

"How will we handle a disconnect of cohesion that may come from places changing names?" she asked.

Anderson said he thinks the economic impact on small businesses and municipal locations is an important consideration.

Carnes-McNaughton said officials recognize that changing a name won't delete history.

However, renaming provides an opportunity for a new, inclusive conversation that leads to history all can embrace, she said.

Pence said that at another meeting an individual said local businesses put Fort Bragg in their names to be associated with the soldiers but didn't necessarily want to be associated with Braxton Bragg.

"The local businesses will need to be reimbursed," Pence said, though not being able to guarantee where the funds would come from.

The national naming commission is tasked with estimating the total costs associated with renaming all the installations that have been identified to be renamed.

The national renaming commission and federal government, Pence said, should have a vested interest in ensuring whatever installations will be renamed is something that has community support.

In response to Sussman's question about whether a name change will disrupt the cohesion of the community, Pence questioned whether the current name creates cohesion or division.

For years, he said, people in the Army didn't know about Braxton Bragg because he wasn't used as "an inspiring story to motivate or inspire others."

"Regardless of his Confederate service, in his last role as a general, he was not a good general," Pence said. "It's hard to paint him as a good general, except for his campaigns in the Mexican-American War."

Responding to an online question about whether birth certificates would need to be changed, too, Carnes-McNaughton said she does not think birth certificates would change, but that that is a question for the office of vital statistics.

Pence encouraged other residents who did not participate in Tuesday's town hall to visit www.thenamingcommission.gov and the Fort Bragg garrison commander's Facebook page, where a survey is pinned to the top of the page for residents to provide suggestions and thoughts about renaming Fort Bragg.

Pence said the name change doesn't have to be after a person and could be named after a virtue or value like Fort Freedom or Fort Liberty.

The next step in the process, he said, is for a diverse panel of local community leaders to forward top suggestions to the national renaming commission.

Though changes won't go into effect until 2023, the renaming commission is expected to provide an updated report to Congress later this month.

Pence said that is why officials are seeking local input now.

"Could it be a name that brings us together? That's what we're looking for now," Pence said.

rriley@fayobserver.com

(c)2021 The Fayetteville Observer (Fayetteville, N.C.)

Visit The Fayetteville Observer (Fayetteville, N.C.) at www.fayobserver.com

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