The U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee this week adopted an amendment to require the Defense Department to rename U.S. military facilities named in honor of Confederates, including two in Georgia.
The amendment from Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a Massachusetts Democrat, was adopted during a closed-door vote on annual defense policy legislation. The language was approved by a voice vote, Roll Call reported, a procedure that’s generally used for measures that have broad bipartisan support.
The amendment marks a victory for advocates calling for the removal of Confederate statues and renaming of installations that honor Confederate leaders. The long-simmering debate has intensified during the recent protests for racial equality following George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis.
Demonstrators in Atlanta last week called for removing a statue of John Brown Gordon, a major general in the Confederate army during the Civil War, from its prominent perch on the state Capitol grounds. In Athens, city officials are pushing to remove a Confederate monument outside the University of Georgia’s iconic Arch.
But the effort to rename military bases drew sharp criticism from President Donald Trump, and is sure to be a sticking point as negotiations over the massive $740 billion defense policy bill move forward.
“It has been suggested that we should rename as many as 10 of our Legendary Military Bases, such as Fort Bragg in North Carolina, Fort Hood in Texas, Fort Benning in Georgia, etc.,” Trump wrote on Twitter Wednesday.
“My Administration will not even consider the renaming of these Magnificent and Fabled Military Installations. Our history as the Greatest Nation in the World will not be tampered with. Respect our Military!” he wrote.
Georgia is home to two military bases named for Confederate officers, Fort Gordon near Augusta and Fort Benning next to Columbus. The Fort Gordon Army installation was established in 1941 at the beginning of World War II. Fort Benning has served as home of the Army Infantry since 1909 and is named for Henry L. Benning, a Confederate brigadier general.
Sen. Tim Kaine, a Virginia Democrat who cosponsored the Warren amendment, said he was “glad we included an amendment to initiate a 3-year process to rename DOD facilities currently named after Confederates. For too many, these names are not merely reminders of a painful past but symbols of a troubled present. It’s time for a change.” Kaine said the amendment had “strong bipartisan support” in the Armed Services Committee.
The committee also approved language from Kaine to prevent the use of military funds or personnel against protesters. Kaine said that was “something I would never have thought I needed to do until last week: prevent the use of military force against peaceful protesters”.
Sen. Angus King, a Maine independent, was among those who supported the amendment to rename military bases.
“My vote was aye,” he wrote on Instagram. “We have ten Army bases named for confederate generals, most of whom violated their oaths when they abandoned the U.S. Army to take up arms against their country in service to the preservation of slavery.”
Sen. Rick Scott, a Florida Republican, also voted in favor of the amendment, according to his spokeswoman Sarah Schwirian.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a California Republican, told reporters on Thursday that he was open to the idea of renaming the bases, The Washington Post reported. “We’ll look to see what comes out of the [National Defense Authorization Act]” McCarthy said. “I’m not opposed to it, though.”
In the House, Maryland Democratic Rep. Anthony Brown and Nebraska Republican Rep. Don Bacon announced bipartisan legislation this week to establish a process to rename military installations honoring leaders of the Confederacy within a year.
“The symbols and individuals that our military honors matter. It matters to the Black soldier serving at an installation honoring the name of a leader who fought to preserve slavery and oppression. It matters to the culture of inclusivity and unity needed for our military to get the job done,” Brown said in a statement.
Bacon said, “As the most diverse and integrated part of American society, it is only right that our installations bear the names of military heroes who represent the best ideals of our Republic.”
In a similar vein, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California has formally requested the removal of 11 Confederate statues from the National Statuary Hall Collection.
“While I believe it is imperative that we never forget our history lest we repeat it, I also believe that there is no room for celebrating the violent bigotry of the men of the Confederacy in the hallowed halls of the United States Capitol or in places of honor across the country,” the speaker wrote in a letter to the leaders of the Joint Committee on the Library, which is overseen by the leadership of the House Administration Committee and the Senate Rules and Administration Committee.
Pelosi mentioned Alexander Stephens from Taliaferro County, in particular. The former vice president of the Confederacy was charged with treason against the United States. His statue in the Capitol’s hall of honor was a gift from the state of Georgia in 1927.
But the adoption of the amendment at the Senate Armed Services panel Wednesday has ramifications far beyond the Capitol itself, with an array of Defense Department properties bearing the names of those who took up arms for the Confederacy and against the Union.
The showdown comes during the administration’s aggressive response to nationwide protests following the May 25 killing of George Floyd, a Black man, by a Minneapolis police officer.
Last week, the Commandant of the Marine Corps, David Berger, directed his leaders to remove public displays of the Confederate battle flag. He has said it can weaken unit cohesion that combat requires. Tuesday, the Navy’s top admiral said he will follow that example.
The United States military is often credited with giving Blacks who served in World War II more access to economic stability than their ancestors. In recent years, U.S. armed forces reports about 40% of their service members are from either racial or ethnic minorities.
The Georgia Recorder’s John McCosh contributed to this article.