Bay Ridge

Clarke brings her anti-Lee fight to Bay Ridge

August 23, 2017 By Paula Katinas Brooklyn Daily Eagle
U.S. Rep. Yvette Clarke (at podium) says Confederate monuments at Fort Hamilton are “personal insult to the hundreds of thousands of women and men in Brooklyn who are descendants of a people held in bondage.” Photo courtesy of Clarke’s office

Congress member holds rally outside Fort Hamilton

U.S. Rep. Yvette Clarke brought her case for removing the names of Confederate generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson from street signs on the Fort Hamilton Army Base directly to Bay Ridge on Tuesday, holding a rally in John Paul Jones Park and repeating her call for the U.S. Army to be sensitive to the need for racial justice.

Standing before a World War I monument inside the park on Fourth Avenue and 101st Street, less than a block away from the entrance to the fort, Clarke (D-Central Brooklyn) said that another war, the Civil War, is still haunting the nation.

The streets signs inside the fort honoring Confederate leaders are an insult, she charged. The fort, which is located in Bay Ridge, has a General Lee Avenue and a Stonewall Jackson Drive. Lee and Jackson both served at the fort in the 1840s.

“They are a personal insult to the hundreds of thousands of women and men in Brooklyn who are descendants of a people held in bondage. They are an insult to many of the members of the armed forces honorably serving our country at this military base,” Clarke said.

Clarke was joined by fellow U.S. Rep. Hakeem Jeffries and Nydia Velazquez, along with Bay Ridge community activists at the rally.

Clarke recently announced plans to introduce legislation called the “Honoring Real Patriots Act of 2017” that would require the Department of Defense to change the name of any military installation or other property under its control named for individuals who fought against the United States during the Civil War or supported the Confederacy’s war efforts.

The legislation was drafted in the wake of the violence in Charlottesville. On Aug. 12, white nationalists gathered in that city to protest plans to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee and to hold a “Unite the Right” rally. They were met by counter-protesters. Brawls broke out between the two groups.

A car allegedly driven by James Alex Fields Jr. of Ohio plowed into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing Heather Heyer, 32.

In a related tragedy, two state troopers, H. Jay Collen and Berke Bates, were killed when the helicopter they were riding in to monitor the crowds crashed.

At Tuesday’s rally, Clarke and the other speakers broadened their focus to include not just the street names at the fort, but statues and memorials to Confederate figures throughout the U.S.

“It is clear that these symbols remain an inspiration to some who espouse white supremacist ideology to perpetuate acts of terror and violence on the peaceful, law-abiding citizens of our nation. That terrible legacy was the very reason neo-Nazis and other white supremacists marched through the streets of Charlottesville with torches and guns, the standard equipment of the Ku Klux Klan,” Clarke said.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced his support for the effort to remove the names of Lee and Jackson from Fort Hamilton.

Citing the need to respect military history, army officials are refusing to change the names of the streets inside the fort.

“The great generals of the Civil War, Union and Confederate, are an inextricable part of our military history,” Diane M. Randon, the senior official performing the duties of the assistant secretary of the army, wrote in a letter to Clarke. 

Other efforts to purge traces of Confederate history from Bay Ridge have taken place in recent days.

Two plaques containing Lee’s name were removed from a tree outside Saint John’s Episcopal Church on Fort Hamilton Parkway under orders from the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island.