Fort Hamilton

Cuomo joins Fort Hamilton name change fight

August 16, 2017 By Paula Katinas Brooklyn Daily Eagle
One of the plaques honoring Robert E. Lee in Fort Hamilton before it was taken down. AP photo by Kathy Willens

In the wake of the violence in Charlottesville and President Donald Trump’s controversial statements that white supremacists and counter-protesters equally shared the blame, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that he has joined the effort to remove the names of Confederate generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson from streets on the U.S. Army Garrison at Fort Hamilton.

“Renaming these streets will send a clear message that in New York, we stand against intolerance and racism, whether it be insidious and hidden or obvious and intentional,” Cuomo wrote in a letter to Acting Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy.

U.S. Rep. Yvette Clarke, U.S. Rep. Hakeem Jeffries and Borough President Eric Adams have been advocating for a name change at the fort for two years.

The fort, which is located in Bay Ridge, opened in 1825 and is currently the only active military post in New York City. The fort has a General Lee Avenue and a Stonewall Jackson Drive. Lee and Jackson served there in the 1840s.

In his letter to McCarthy, Cuomo asked the acting army secretary take action after “the violence and terrorism perpetrated by white supremacists in Charlottesville and the resulting emboldening of the voices of Nazis and white supremacists.”

“I just asked the acting secretary of the @USArmy to remove confederate names from the streets of Fort Hamilton in Brooklyn,” Cuomo wrote on Twitter Wednesday afternoon.

Thus far, the army has refused to change the names of the two streets. Meanwhile, the decision to have a plaque honoring Lee removed from a tree outside Saint John’s Episcopal Church in Bay Ridge was necessary, according to religious leaders who stood and watched Wednesday morning as workers carefully dislodged the metal plaque.

“I think it is the responsible thing for us to do,” Bishop Lawrence Provenzano, the leader of the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island told Newsday. “People for whom the Civil War is such a critical moment — and particularly the descendants of former slaves — shouldn’t walk past what they believe is a church building and see a monument to a Confederate general.”

The plaque, which was commissioned by the United Daughters of the Confederacy, was erected in 1912 outside the church located at 9941 Fort Hamilton Parkway. Lee attended St. John’s Episcopal Church in the 1840s, when he was stationed at Fort Hamilton, located near the church. Jackson also attended St. John’s Episcopal during his time at Fort Hamilton.

For many years, the St. John’s Episcopal was known as “The Church of the Generals” because of its association with Lee and Jackson. The Rev. Khader El-Yateem, pastor of Salam Arabic Lutheran Church in Bay Ridge and a Democratic candidate for Bay Ridge’s City Council seat, stood next to Bishop Provenzano as workers removed the plaque. Earlier in the week, El-Yateem held a press conference calling on the army to change the streets names at Fort Hamilton.

“The Episcopal Diocese of Long Island is on the right side of history by removing this symbol that venerates our history of slavery. Removing this plaque makes it very clear that while we will never forget the history of slavery in America, we are ready to move forward and address racism at its root,” El-Yateem said.

In the wake of Charlottesville, several cities across the country have stepped up plans to remove statues and other memorials to the Confederacy.