A Virginia congressman is pushing to change the names of two military bases in his district currently named after Confederate leaders.
U.S Representative Donald McEachin wants to see Army post Fort Lee and Fort Pickett renamed immediately. McEachin says as an African American holding a congressional position, he felt obligated to speak up.
“I don’t want the luxury and can’t afford the luxury of being silent,” McEachin stated. “This is all part of an effort to try as best as we can to make our military facilities open and welcoming to all.”
In a letter sent to the Department of Defense, addressed to Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy, McEachin urged the consideration of renaming military bases named after Confederate leaders.
The letter states in part, “Over 155 years after the end of the Civil War, it is unacceptable that there are 10 army bases in the U.S named after officers who served in the Confederate States Of America. Memoralizing individuals who took up arms against the United States to preserve the institution of slavery is antithetical of our nation’s fundamental principles.”
The Congressional Research Service created a map of the 10 U.S Army posts named after Confederate leaders. Three of the ten posts are in Virginia: Fort Hill, Fort Lee, and Fort Pickett. Two reside in McEachin’s congressional district.
Fort Pickett, located in Blackstone, is named after General George Pickett and is operated today by the Virginia National Guard. Fort Lee, located in Prince George County, is named after General Robert E. Lee and is where about 70,000 troops train each year.
McEachin said if he had his way, both names would be changed immediately and he’s offering up suggestions.
“I find it most appropriate that we change Fort Lee to Fort Gregg,” he told 8News.
Lieutenant General Arthur Gregg began his career at Fort Lee during a segregated post and retired as the highest ranking Black officer in the Army. The local push for changing military base names is part of a bigger national conversation.
“In the Army we’re up to 20 plus percent African American and in some units you’ll see 30 percent,” said Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley.
The top U.S General slammed the Confederacy before the House Armed Service Committee, stating that “those officers turned their back on their oath,” referring to the names on the bases. “It was an act of treason, at the time, against the Union, against the stars and stripes, against the US Constitution.”
Milley says base names were political decisions made in the past and the U.S Army needs to take a hard look at change.
“For those young soldiers who go onto a base,” said Milley. “They can be reminded that that general fought for an institution of slavery that may have enslaved one of their ancestors. I had a staff sergeant when I was a young officer actually tell me that at Fort Bragg.”
US Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy and Secretary of Defense Mark Esper are said to be open to holding a “bipartisan conversation” about the possible renaming, according to an Army official.
The official said that though McCarthy believes he has the potential authority to unilaterally rename the installations, there would need to be consultation with the White House, Congress and state and local governments.
President Donald Trump has been vocal about his opposition. Trump has threatened to veto any bill if it comes to his desk.
8News reached out to Fort Lee and Fort Pickett about the possible renaming. Their statements are listed below.
Stephen J. Baker–Director of Public Affairs–Fort Lee:
“Fort Lee absolutely supports our Army senior leaders’ decision to be part of this important national conversation.”
Mr. A. A. “Cotton” Puryear” Chief of Public Affairs–Va Army National Guard:
“The names of U.S. Army bases in Virginia is a federal-level decision, but the Virginia National Guard welcomes the opportunity to be part of the discussion about the way ahead.”