Despite the more than 150 years that have passed since the Confederate Army fought for—and lost—the right to own other human beings as property, the U.S. military insisted this week that removing the name of several Southern generals from an active base in Brooklyn would nevertheless be against “the spirit of reconciliation” in which they were supposedly dedicated.
The Army’s decision not to remove streets named after Generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson in Fort Hamilton—where both men served in the years preceding the Civil War—was announced in a letter delivered to New York Rep. Yvette Clarke over the weekend. Clarke, along with New York representatives Jerrold Nadler, Nydia Velázquez, and Hakeem Jeffries, had petitioned the Army for a change in the names this past June.
“The great generals of the Civil War, Union and Confederate, are an inextricable part of our military history,” Diane Randon, an official with the Department of the Army, wrote in a letter to Clarke. “The men in question were honored on Fort Hamilton as individuals, not as representatives of any particular cause or ideology.”
“After over a century, any effort to rename memorializations on Fort hamilton would be controversial and divisive,” Randon continued, perhaps unaware of how divisive the actual Civil War itself was. “This is contrary to the Nation’s original intent in naming these streets, which was in the spirit of reconciliation.”
In other words, the Army won’t rename streets in New York City dedicated to people who made their name fighting for the right to own slaves because it might hurt the feelings of people who cherish the memory of the Confederacy. Great.
Despite the Army’s refusal to change the street names, Rep. Clarke insisted on Monday that she would not be deterred.
“The department [of the Army] claims the streets were named ‘in the spirit of reconciliation,’” Clarke wrote in a statement on her Twitter account on Monday. “But that ‘reconciliation’ was actually complacency 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.”
Rep. Clarke went on commend New Orleans, which in recent months has removed a number of monuments to Confederate figures, “for initiating this important and often difficult work.”