As published by ABC News by Elizabeth McLaughlin
“The Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of the Army are open to a bi-partisan discussion on the topic,” Army spokesperson Cynthia Smith said on Monday.
There are 10 Army installations, including Fort Lee in Virginia and Fort Bragg in North Carolina, named after Confederate leaders from the Civil War. For years, critics have told the military it’s long been time for change — the names uplifting men who fought for white supremacy and the right to own slaves.MORE: Air Force leader’s impassioned tweets spark candid conversation about racism in America: “I am George Floyd”
But as recently as February, the Army said it had “no plans to rename any street or installation,” saying it was “important to note that the naming of installations and streets was done in a spirit of reconciliation, not to demonstrate support for any particular cause or ideology.”
“The Army has a tradition of naming installations and streets after historical figures of military significance, including former Union and Confederate general officers,” the statement said at the time.
An official told ABC News that the death of George Floyd while in the custody of the Minneapolis Police Department on May 25 and the subsequent protests against police brutality and racial inequality in America have led Defense Department leaders to reverse that earlier stance and signal openness to a conversation about renaming the bases. Meanwhile, cities across the country have chosen to remove status of Confederate figures.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., told reporters on Tuesday that he was supportive of changing the names “that carry racial connotations and imply continued racism in our society.”
“The military is actually one of the most successful institutions in our nation in integrating and avoiding discrimination,” Blumenthal, who is a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said. “So renaming these bases would be very, very appropriate for the military to do, recognizing the progress it’s made — more progress than many other sectors of our society. And I hope the secretary of defense will in fact consider it.”MORE: Questions arise over Special Forces guarding Donald Trump from protests
ABC News contributor Mick Mulroy, a former deputy assistant secretary of defense and retired Marine, suggested the Army could rename its bases after Medal of Honor recipients from those states. Mulroy grew up near Fort Gordon in Georgia, named after Confederate general John Brown Gordon who opposed Reconstruction and is believed to have led part of the Klu Klux Klan.
“Since the Civil War ended, there have been almost 30 Medals of Honor from Georgia by my count,” Mulroy said. “I would start there, then move on to the next installation.”
“Although the Civil War should be remembered as part of our history, that should be done in museums and by historians,” he added. “American soldiers should serve on bases that are named after the heroes that have sacrificed and fought for our country, not against it.”
Floyd’s death has also sparked a conversation about the display of Confederate paraphernalia on bases. Back in February, Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger banned Confederate symbols, including the Confederate flag, from Marine Corps installations, writing they had the “power to inflame feelings of division.”MORE: US Marine Corps issues details on ban of Confederate battle flags
On Monday, Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., wrote to the heads of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard and National Guard to enact a similar regulation and prohibit the display of the Confederate flag.
“Honoring the ‘lost cause’ of those who waged war against the United States of America, or defending the right of an individual State to allow its residents to own, sell and kill fellow Americans as property, has no place in our Nation, especially the U.S. Armed Forces which waged a deadly war to eliminate the barbaric practice of slavery,” wrote Duckworth, a combat veteran.
“Critics of banning the public display of the Confederate Battle Flag may accuse me of seeking to ‘erase’ history,” she continued. “Nothing could be further from the truth. … Banning celebration is distinct from education.”
ABC News’ Trish Turner contributed to this report.