Bay Ridge

Army refuses to rename Fort Hamilton streets

August 8, 2017 By Paula Katinas Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Soldiers at the Fort Hamilton Army Base fire a salute to Navy ships during the fort’s celebration of Fleet Week in May. The controversy over two streets on the fort named for Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson shows no signs of dying down. Eagle file photo by Paula Katinas

Lee Avenue, Stonewall Jackson Drive to stay

U.S. Rep. Yvette Clarke reacted angrily to the Pentagon’s refusal to rename two streets on U.S. Army Garrison at Fort Hamilton that memorialize Civil War Confederate generals, calling the military’s reasoning “nonsense.” 

Clarke (D-Central Brooklyn) and other elected officials had been pushing military brass to strip the names of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson from the streets on Fort Hamilton. The lawmakers contended that since the Confederacy fought to uphold slavery, Lee and Jackson do not deserve to have streets named in their honor. 

Fort Hamilton, located in Bay Ridge, has a Lee Avenue and a Stonewall Jackson Drive.

In a recent letter to Clarke, Diane M. Randon, the senior official performing the duties of the assistant secretary of the Army, flatly denied the name change request.

“Streets on our military installations are often named for a soldier who holds a place of significance in our military history. The great generals of the Civil War, Union and Confederate, are an inextricable part of our military history. After over a century any effort to rename memorializations on Fort Hamilton would be controversial and divisive. This is contrary to the nation’s original intent in naming these streets, which was in the spirit of reconciliation,” Randon wrote. 

On Monday, Clarke responded by calling the street names “deeply offensive.” 

Clarke said she was disappointed by the fact that the Department of the Army won’t even consider making a change.

“The department describes any possible renaming of these streets as potentially ‘controversial.’ Nonsense. These monuments are deeply offensive to the hundreds of thousands of Brooklyn residents and members of the armed forces stationed at Fort Hamilton whose ancestors Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson fought to hold in slavery. For too many years, the United States has refused to reckon with that history,” Clarke said in a statement.

Four Democratic House members representing Brooklyn districts — Clarke, Hakeem Jeffries, Jerrold Nadler and Nydia Velázquez — wrote to military officials in June demanding that the names of Lee and Jackson be stripped from the streets located within the fort. 

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.

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

The four lawmakers issued their demand after the city of New Orleans tore down statues of Confederate figures by order of Mayor Mitch Landrieu.

Clarke vowed to continue to push for similar action at Fort Hamilton, despite the Army’s refusal to take action. 

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

In 2015, Jeffries (D-Canarsie-Mill Basin-Coney Island) and Borough President Eric Adams led a fight to try to convince the Army to change the street 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.

That same year, 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.

 

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