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Army bases that were named for Confederate officers now have new name recommendations

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Two years ago, in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, Congress ordered the Pentagon to rename Army bases that had been named for Confederate officers. All these bases are in the South, and today a special naming commission released its recommendations for their new names. Jay Price of member station WUNC has been following the process, and he's with us now. Welcome.

JAY PRICE, BYLINE: Hey, Ailsa. Thanks for having me.

CHANG: Well, thanks for being with us. So let's start with these new names. What are some of them?

PRICE: Yeah, so there were nine of these bases. And I'll start with some of the more familiar ones. Right here in North Carolina, we have the largest army base by population, Fort Bragg. That would become Fort Liberty. In Texas, Fort Hood would be renamed Fort Cavazos, and Fort Benning in Georgia would be called Fort Moore.

CHANG: OK. And is there any sort of pattern to these new names?

PRICE: Yeah. Let me give you a few of the others. So there's Fort Gordon in Georgia, which would become Fort Eisenhower. Fort A.P. Hill in Virginia would be Fort Walker. Fort Polk, La., would be Fort Johnson. And so these are either heroes or inspirational figures for the military, and they bring a lot of diversity. Several are women. There's a Native American hero and several Black soldiers. Fort Bragg is the only one that wouldn't be named for a person.

CHANG: Oh, interesting. Talk more about some of the people that these bases are newly named after. I'm so curious.

PRICE: Sergeant William Henry Johnson, who Fort Polk would be named for, is a Black Medal of Honor recipient from World War I. Hal Moore was a hero of the Vietnam War, and his wife Julia fought for changes to improve the lives of military families. Fort Benning would be renamed for both of them in kind of a tribute to military families. General Richard E. Cavazos was the first Hispanic American four-star general and a Texas native.

And, you know, one thing to understand about all of this - part of the law that mandated the renamings was the commission needed to gather and incorporate input from base communities. So while the catalyst for this process was racial justice, several of the new names, like Hal Moore, are of white troops.

An easy one for the commission, maybe, was Fort Novosel. There was widespread support around Fort Rucker for that name. Michael Novosel had an extraordinary service record in three wars and was a Medal of Honor recipient and also a beloved member of the community after he retired. Now, Novosel was white, but William Cooper, the mayor of the nearby city of Enterprise, who is Black, told me last year Novosel's race shouldn't matter if he's the best candidate.

CHANG: Well, if we can go back in time a little bit, remind us how these bases ended up with the names of Confederates on them.

PRICE: Yeah. Many of these bases date to World War I. There was a big push to build bases for that war. And to appease Southern sensibilities, apparently, the federal government decided to allow local input. The topic wasn't a big priority. You know, the war was. And the sense is the Pentagon didn't spend a lot of thought on it. The U.S. military is, of course, really diverse. And for many, it's an ongoing problem to serve on bases named for men who fought for slavery and who, in many cases, owned slaves. Also, it seems almost arbitrary the way the names for some of these were chosen. For example, many historians are puzzled as to why Braxton Bragg was chosen as the namesake for Fort Bragg. He's believed to have been a terrible leader even if you can somehow put aside his service to the Confederacy.

CHANG: All right. That is Jay Price of WUNC. Thank you, Jay.

PRICE: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jay Price
Jay M. Price is chair of the department of history at Wichita State University, where he also directs the public history program.