Commission tasked with renaming military assets commemorating the Confederacy to visit Georgia this summer
AUGUSTA, Ga. (Tribune News Service) — A commission authorized by Congress to remove the name of Confederates from military installations will be visiting Georgia this summer.
The Naming Commission was created by the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act to rename any military assets that commemorate the Confederacy or those who served in the Confederacy, including two of Georgia’s army bases — Fort Benning and Fort Gordon.
The commission is lead by Retired Navy Adm. Michelle Howard, who announced in May that the commission has already made significant progress. Through the summer and fall the commission will be focusing on the nine U.S. Army installations with names associated with the Confederacy.
“Fort Benning looks forward to working with the Naming Commission during their visit this July to discuss the process which will include input from local community leaders,” said Maj. Gen. Patrick J. Donahoe, Commanding General of the US Army Maneuver Center of Excellence and Fort Benning, in a statement from the Fort.
Appointed in February, the independent naming commission is still early in the process and many of the specifics have not been worked out yet. An Army spokesperson confirmed the commission will be visiting the two bases, and while the full list of assets to be renamed has not been completed yet, Forts Benning and Gordon are the only ones in the state under consideration at the moment.
Public affairs at Fort Gordon confirmed final plans are still in the works.
“Details have not been finalized, regarding when and if a representative will visit Fort Gordon, but we look forward to working with the Naming Commission,” said Geralyn Smith Noah, director of public affairs at Fort Gordon.
A congressional staffer who was only authorized to speak on background said that local feedback on the renaming process will likely go through installation commanders. Either commanders will reach out to members of the community or members of the community should get in touch with the commanders.
The Army spokesperson confirmed that many installation leaders have already considered the question.
How community members might be involved at Fort Benning and Fort Gordon is not yet clear. Dr. Tom Clark, executive director of CSRA Alliance for Fort Gordon, said his organization is not currently involved in the renaming discussion.
The naming commission will present an update to the Senate and House Armed Services Committee before Oct. 1 and present the committees with a complete list of assets to be renamed, the new names and the cost of renaming by Oct. 1, 2022.
The naming commission is authorized to go beyond bases to examine the names of ships, streets, weapons and anything else — except graves — under Department of Defense control. The bill also authorizes the removal or renaming of “displays, monuments, or paraphernalia.”
According to Amy Tuschen, executive director of the now closed Fort Gordon Historical Museum, the museum included a painting of the fort’s namesake, John Brown Gordon, and an area with information on the naming and on Gordon’s life.
Whether such exhibits would be taken down at other installations named for Confederates is unclear. According to the congressional staffer the focus is on public facing objects, such as statues or monuments.
Besides Forts Benning and Gordon, there are seven other U.S. Army installations with Confederate names or associations — Fort A.P. Hill, Fort Bragg, Fort Lee, Fort Rucker, Fort Hood, Fort Polk and Fort Pickett.
According to John Hayes, associate professor at Augusta University, these Confederate base names came around the time of World War I and World War II.
“Those are both moments when the Democratic party is the majority party in the federal government,” Hayes said. “A major constituency and wing of the national Democratic party were white southerners, and we’re mainly talking about elite and middle class white southerners.”
For this wing of the party, Hayes said, honoring Confederates made perfect sense.
“What to us seems like a remarkable irony — here are these U.S. military installations named for people who led armies against the USA in the 1860’s ... to the white elite at the time, it was just, ‘well, of course these people are deserving of such public honor,’ “ Hayes said.
Both John B. Gordon and Henry L. Benning served in the Confederate military and went on to held politically powerful positions after the war.
Gordon served as the first president of the United Confederate Veterans, the precursor of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, is widely believed to have led the Ku Klux Klan in Georgia, and then served as a governor and senator for Georgia. Benning served as the leader of the state Democratic party, and was known as an ardent defender of secession.
Despite the prominence of Gordon and Benning at the time, Hayes said people today are less familiar with them, which, along with general inertia, may be why it is only recently that steps have been taken to remove their names from U.S. military bases along with other Confederate leaders. But he also thinks there are other factors at play.
“For many white Americans, their reckoning with the legacy of white supremacy didn’t happen much in the Civil Rights era, and time will tell whether last summer’s reckoning for many white Americans of substance.”
(c)2021 The Augusta Chronicle (Augusta, Ga.)
Visit The Augusta Chronicle (Augusta, Ga.) at chronicle.augusta.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.