The Rev. Al Sharpton’s civil rights group, the National Action Network, wants the US military to rename all of its facilities that honour Confederate Army figures including a street named for Robert E. Lee on Fort Hamilton in Brooklyn, New York.
Sharpton will be holding a vigil in front of Fort Hamilton on Saturday. Ahead of that event, Minister Kirsten John Foy, the National Action Network’s northeast regional director, held a press conference in front of the base on Thursday.
Foy said it is “unacceptable” that the main street running through the base is named “General Lee Avenue.” He noted Fort Hamilton’s slogan dubs the base the “face of the United States Army in New York.”
“Fort Hamilton is the face of the US Army here in New York and the face of the US Army here in New York is General Robert E. Lee,” said Foy. “That is unacceptable as a New Yorker, as an American, and as a person of good conscience.”
Business Insider highlighted the existence of General Lee Avenue on Monday. The street is about a half mile long and is the main street on the base. Lee served at Fort Hamilton in the 19th century before he left the US Army. He went on to lead the Confederate troops during the Civil War.
The June 17 shooting at a historically black church in Charleston, South Carolina that left nine people dead has reignited a nationwide debate over Confederate symbols on public lands. Dylann Roof, the alleged shooter, has been linked to a website that featured a racist manifesto and photos of him posing with Confederate imagery.
In addition to calling for General Lee Avenue to be renamed, Foy said the National Action Network is pushing for the military to renamed all of its other bases that honour Confederate figures. There are at least ten bases named for Confederate leaders. Military bases are on federally owned land that is outside of local jurisdiction.
“We will be presenting an official letter to the commander of this base and then sending it up the chain asking that they remove all the remnants of the Confederacy,” Foy said. “Taxpayer dollars are supporting a US military that honours the Confederacy.”
Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-New York), who represents a congressional district adjacent to the base has also called for General Lee Avenue to be renamed. However, Rep. Dan Donovan (R-New York) has not responded to requests for comment from Business Insider about the issue.
Foy said Donovan’s silence was “deafening.” However, Foy said it is not surprising Donovan has not weighed in given his role in the Eric Garner case. Donovan was elected to Congress earlier this year. Prior to that, he was the district attorney in Staten Island. Donovan was widely criticised for declining to indict the police officers who were involved in Garner’s death. The decision not to indict the officers led to nationwide protests.
“The silence is deafening, but not surprising,” Foy said. “This is the same individual who didn’t think Eric Garner deserved justice.”
Along with changing military facilities named for Confederate figures, Foy said National Action Network hopes to begin a “debate” about a mural in the New York State Capitol Building in Albany that includes a Confederate flag.
“We’re not equating this painting with the Confederate flag that’s represented in some of the Southern states in their flags and on their public lands,” Foy explained. “But we are saying that this rises to the occasion of a robust public debate. Does this flag belong in our state capitol here in the state of New York?”
The mural, which depicts wars New York has been involved in, includes a flag with the Confederate stars and bars that is encircled by a wreath. Foy said the presence of the wreath means the Confederate flag is being “memorialised” on the mural.
After Foy’s remarks, a reporter asked whether the fight over Confederate symbols and names might be distracting from more pressing civil rights issues.
“We can walk and chew gum at the same time,” Foy said. We can fight injustices on all fronts. We have to fight this battle from top to bottom, legislatively and symbolically.”
The Army has released statements indicating it has no intention of changing any base names. Business Insider asked Foy whether National Action Network would push President Barack Obama or any of the 2016 candidates to take action to rename the bases.
“We’ve got to look for the future. The president has done a yeoman’s job in moving the US military into the 21st century,” Foy said. He can’t do it all in eight years. There is another president on the way and, whoever the president is, they have got to make it known to us what their position is on the state of the Confederacy in 2015.”