Stonewalled! Army refuses to rename Ft. Ham streets honoring Confederate generals

In the zone: Congresswoman joins fight against zoning change
File photo by Tom Callan

They want to let bygones be bygones.

The U.S. Army is refusing to remove the names of Confederate commanders from streets at its Fort Hamilton base — because, well, that whole Civil War thing was so long ago, and changing now would just upset people.

“After over a century any effort to rename memorializations on Fort Hamilton would be controversial and divisive,” said Army spokeswoman Diane Randon in a July 20 letter addressed to a Brooklyn congresswoman pushing for the change.

Rep. Yvette Clarke (D–Flatbush) petitioned the Department of the Army to change the names of General Lee Avenue and Stonewall Jackson Drive on the grounds of Fort Hamilton back in June, along with fellow members of Brooklyn’s congressional delegation, Jerrold Nadler, Nydia Velázquez, and Hakeem Jeffries. The base’s street names became controversial in 2015 after a racially motivated mass shooting in a church in Charleston, S.C., sparked a nationwide movement to remove Confederate flags and other memorials from public spaces.

In the Army’s response, Randon said the streets will remain named after the rebel generals to honor their role in American military history, and not their political beliefs.

“Streets on our military installations are often named for a soldier who holds a place of significance in our military history,” she said in the letter. “The great generals of the Civil War, Union, and Confederate are an inextricable part of our military history. The men in question were honored on Fort Hamilton as individuals, not as representatives of any particular cause or ideology.”

Both Lee and Jackson were stationed at the base earlier in their careers, and served with distinction in the U.S. Army before resigning to take up arms for the Confederacy. But Rep. Clarke said the Army’s response is a let down, and that its refusal to make amends ignores how that way of thinking affected minorities.

“I am disappointed that the Department of the Army will not even consider renaming these streets honoring Confederate generals who waged war against the United States,” she said in a press release on Aug. 7. “The department claims that the streets were named ‘in the spirit of reconciliation.’ But that reconciliation was actually complicity by the North and the South to ignore the interests of African Americans and enforce white supremacy, effectively denying the result of the Civil War for generations.”

Clarke dismissed the excuse that changing the street names would be controversial, saying the real outrage is that the Army is honoring defenders of slavery on a base where so many African American soldiers serve their country.

“The department describes any possible renaming of these streets as potentially ‘controversial.’ Nonsense,” she said. “These monuments are deeply offensive to the hundreds of thousands of Brooklyn residents and members of the armed forces stationed at Fort Hamilton whose ancestors Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson fought to hold in slavery.”