Bay Ridge

House members want Confederate Fort Hamilton streets renamed

June 20, 2017 By Paula Katinas Brooklyn Daily Eagle
West Point cadets march in formation at the U.S. Army Garrison Fort Hamilton in a 2015 ceremony. Brooklyn House members are pushing to have the army change the names of two streets on the base; Lee Avenue and Stonewall Jackson Drive. Eagle file photo by Paula Katinas

Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson don’t deserve tributes, pols say

The legacy of the Civil War is at the center of a renewed fight to get the federal government to change the names of two streets at the U.S. Army Garrison Fort Hamilton named in honor of a pair of Confederate generals. 

Four Democratic House members representing Brooklyn districts — Yvette Clarke, Hakeem Jeffries, Jerrold Nadler and Nydia Velazquez — have written a joint letter to Secretary of the Army Robert M. Speer demanding that he rename General Lee Avenue and Stonewall Jackson Drive at the Bay Ridge military post. 

Both Lee and Jackson served at Fort Hamilton in the 1840s, long before the Civil War. Lee was the base’s engineer from 1841 to 1846. Jackson arrived at Fort Hamilton in 1848. 

The army shouldn’t be honoring the memory of military leaders who fought on the side of slavery, according to Clarke (D-Central Brooklyn), who said that states all across the south are in the process of tearing down Confederate statues.

“When the City of New Orleans recently removed its statues of Robert E. Lee and other Confederate generals from the public square, that community confronted its history, recognizing in the words of Mayor Mitch Landrieu that ‘the Confederacy was on the wrong side of humanity.’ We are asking the army to accept the same conclusion,” Clarke said in a statement. 

Fort Hamilton, which was built in 1825, is the only active military base in New York City.

Clarke charged that commemorating Lee and Jackson is an insult to Brooklyn residents who are descendants of slaves, as well as an insult to men and women of color who have serve and continue to serve in the military.

“These generals,” Clarke said, referring to Lee and Jackson, “who disavowed their loyalty to the United States, are not representative of either Brooklyn or the United States Army. There are many qualified individuals from Brooklyn and across our beloved nation who have contributed enormously to the development of the United States Army and who therefore deserve commemoration, as alternatives to the two Confederate generals.” 

The letter from the lawmakers to Speer was dated June 19, a day that is also known as Juneteenth, the anniversary of the official end of slavery in the U.S. in 1865.

The effort to get rid of the street designations of Lee and Jackson at Fort Hamilton is not new. 

In 2015, Jeffries and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams led a fight to convince the Army to change the names. 

“We can no longer accept a single government site in this nation, not a street, school, or military installation, named for an individual who fought to preserve slavery in America,” Adams said at the time.

The Rev. Al Sharpton, the civil rights leader, and a group of protesters held a vigil outside the fort’s main gate on Fort Hamilton Parkway and 101st Street to call attention to the issue.

The effort did not succeed.