US Army bases bearing Confederate general names including Forts Bragg.
Abandoning decades of resistance, the Pentagon signaled Monday that it is open to stripping the names of Confederate heroes off Fort Hood and nine other Army posts, including one named for the rebels’ top general, Robert E. Lee.
Civil rights advocates embraced the shift, which Defense Secretary Mark Esper added his voice to a few hours after Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy’s office said that he was open to the idea.
The announcement came two weeks into nationwide demonstrations against police brutality and racism, and backlash against President Donald Trump’s initial push for a military response to quash the protests.
“The Secretary of Defense and Secretary of the Army are open to a bi-partisan discussion on the topic,” said Lt. Col. Emanuel L. Ortiz, an Army spokesman.
Three months ago, the Marine Corps banned Confederate symbols as part of an effort to root out white supremacy in the ranks and to end ongoing offense to black personnel. McCarthy said at the time that the Army would not reassess the use of Confederate names.
Pressure has built on the military, and on states and cities, since the May 25 death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, where a police officer pinned Floyd’s neck to the ground with his knee for nearly nine minutes.
Fort Hood, the largest U.S. military installation in the world, is named for Gen. John Bell Hood of Kentucky, a West Point graduate who lost the use of his left arm at the battle of Gettysburg, fighting for the Confederacy, and later his right leg at the Battle of Chickamauga.
“Things are moving in the right direction,” said Roosevelt Huggins, a past president of the Killeen Branch of the NAACP, and a retired command master sergeant in the Army. “We understand it and the reasoning for the Army now wanting to revisit the conversation …. Now is the time to do it.”
Roosevelt was stationed at Fort Hood during his Army career, and said that he has “always been aware of who the military installation was named after.”
Despite long-festering complaints, the Pentagon has resisted such change. The issue has become a cultural and political flash point, and the idea of eradicating the names of Hood, Lee and others was met with dismay by the Sons of Confederate Veterans, which has fought to protect Confederate statues.
“We disapprove and disagree with changing anything, whether it’s an Army base or a street or a school,” said the group’s commander-in-chief, Paul Gramling, a retired postal worker from Sheveport, La., reached by phone Monday night. “When these bases were named it was after the war. Like General Lee and so many others, even though they were a quote-unquote enemy at one time, they respected them. It’s called respect and you don’t see that today, anywhere, hardly.”
Gramling recalled the removal of a Robert E. Lee statue from a park in Dallas in 2017. “Has the crime improved any in Dallas? Are people better off in Dallas?” he said.
What, he argued, do decades-old names of military posts have to do with “what those cops did in Minneapolis, way up north away from anything Confederate or Southern?” adding that the Pentagon “may be kowtowing to some of the loudest voices out there.”
In late February, the Marines announced a ban on public displays of Confederate paraphernalia, underscoring the shift last Friday with fresh guidance.
The ban covers bumper stickers, flags, clothes and coffee mugs.
”The Confederate battle flag has all too often been co-opted by violent extremists and racist groups whose divisive beliefs have no place in our Corps,” the Marines said. “This presents a threat to our core values, unit cohesion, security, and good order and discipline.”
The 218,000-acre Fort Hood, near Killeen, opened in 1942. It’s home to III Corps and roughly 40,000 soldiers.
And it’s one of 10 Army installations, all in the old South — Virginia, North Carolina, Louisiana, Georgia and Alabama — named for Confederate generals, a fact that has long rankled civil rights leaders and black soldiers serving their country at sites named for warriors who fought, among other things, to keep their ancestors enslaved.