Fort Bragg would become Fort Liberty. For the first time, U.S. Army bases would be named after Black soldiers and women. An independent commission on Tuesday recommended new names for nine Army posts that now commemorate Confederate officers.
The recommendations are the latest step in a broader effort by the military to confront racial injustice, most recently in the aftermath of the May 2020 police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Fort Bragg, in North Carolina, is the only base that wouldn’t be named after a person. Fort Gordon in Georgia would become Fort Eisenhower, after President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who led European forces in World War II.
Other proposals honor lesser-known heroes: Fort Polk, in Louisiana, would be renamed Fort Johnson, after Sgt. William Henry Johnson, a Black Medal of Honor recipient who served in the Army in World War I. Fort A.P. Hill in Virginia would be renamed Fort Walker, after Mary Edwards Walker, a doctor who treated soldiers in the Civil War and later received a Medal of Honor.
For years, U.S. military officials had defended the naming of bases after Confederate officers. As recently as 2015 the Army argued that the names did not honor the rebel cause but were a gesture of reconciliation with the South.
But in the aftermath of the Floyd killing, and the months of racial unrest that followed, Congress pushed for a comprehensive plan to rename the military posts and hundreds of other federal assets such as roads, buildings, memorials, signs and landmarks that honored rebel leaders.
The change in the military’s thinking was reflected in congressional testimony by Army Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, a month after Floyd’s death. He said that the current base names could be reminders to Black soldiers that rebel officers fought for an institution that may have enslaved their ancestors.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin — the nation’s first Black Pentagon chief — has spoken bluntly of his own personal brushes with racism. During his Senate confirmation hearing, he told of serving as a lieutenant colonel with the 82nd Airborne at Fort Bragg when three white soldiers, described as self-styled skinheads, were arrested in the murder of a Black couple who were walking down a street.
Investigators concluded the two were targeted because of their race, and all told, 22 soldiers were linked to skinhead and other similar groups or found to hold extremist views.
The current chief of the Air Force, Gen. Charles Q. Brown, posted an emotional video last June in which he discussed the difficulties he experienced as a young Black pilot. Brown, the first Black Air Force chief, said he had to prove to white supervisors “that their expectations and perceptions of African-Americans were invalid.”
Created in 2020, the Naming Commission first met in March 2021 and began taking name recommendations from the public in September. Overall, the commission received more than 34,000 potential names, which it said included about 3,670 unique ones that could possibly be used. That list was later narrowed to about 100 before the final nine were chosen to be recommended to Congress.
At the time, the commission said its mandate was to select names that “appropriately reflected the courage, values, sacrifices and demographics of the men and women in our armed forces, with consideration given to the local or regional significance of names and their potential to inspire and motivate service members.”
The panel also is considering new names for two Navy ships: the USS Chancellorsville and USNS Maury.
A final report is due to Congress by Oct. 1, and will include the costs of removing and changing the names. Under the law, the secretary of defense is expected to implement the commission’s plan no later than Jan. 1, 2024.