The killing of nine people at a historically black church in Charleston, South Carolina, last Wednesday has ignited a nationwide debate over the Confederate flag.
But in New York, one of the country’s largest and most racially diverse cities, a street honouring the general who led the Confederate army has gone largely unnoticed.
A website linked to Dylan Roof, the alleged Charleston church shooter, featured a virulently racist manifesto and several photos that seem to show him posing with the flag. Roof’s apparent attachment to the Confederate emblem prompted calls for the flag to be removed from South Carolina’s state capitol, where it had flown since 1961.
South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R) responded on Monday by calling for the flag to be taken down in South Carolina. However, the Confederacy is still commemorated on the flags in multiple other southern states. It’s also honored at an army base in a very northern locale — Brooklyn, New York.
The central street at Fort Hamilton, New York City’s only US Army base, is “General Lee Avenue.” It runs for about a half mile in the borough of Brooklyn.
General Lee Avenue is named after Robert E. Lee, commander of the Confederate forces. Before he joined the secessionist south, Lee served as the base’s engineer. Along with “General Lee Avenue,” the base also features a plaque commemorating the home where the future Confederate leader lived while he was at Fort Hamilton from 1841 to 1846.
Business Insider reached out to Fort Hamilton on Monday. A spokesperson for the base declined to comment on whether they have received requests to change the street name. They noted it is landmarked federal property and therefore outside of local jurisdiction. Nevertheless, we also reached out to several officials including New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) and Rep. Dan Donovan (R-New York), whose district includes the base, to see if they would comment on the street name. Neither de Blasio nor Donovan responded to these requests.
Fort Hamilton isn’t the only military base that honours Confederate leaders. There are at least ten bases where the entire facility is named for a general from the losing side in the US Civil War.
These Confederate names are relics from reconciliation efforts undertaken in the years after conclusion of post-Civil War Reconstruction. During this time, officials promoted a narrative of moral equality between the wars’ combatants that made it possible to honour leaders who fought American troops on US bases.
Here are photos showing Lee’s house and the “General Lee Avenue” sign from inside Fort Hamilton that Business Isnider’s Jeremy Bender took last summer:
According to the website of the Harbour Defence Museum at Fort Hamilton, Lee “devised a plan to improve the waterproofing of the casements in the fort” while serving as engineer.
Lee was never the commander of the base, but he’s almost certainly the most significant individual with a connection to it. According to David Eicher’s biography of Lee, the slow pace of life at Fort Hamilton discouraged the future Confederate leader, whose tasks were limited to peacetime maintenance and upgrades.
“I am very solitary, and my only company is my dogs and cats,” Lee wrote to his wife in 1846, according to Eicher.
Lee also served as a vestryman with the base’s parish church. His career at the base ended that year, when he was dispatched at the outbreak of the Mexican-American war.
Lee later served as commandant of West Point, where there is currently a cadet barracks named after him. An American nuclear-power ballistic missile submarine named after Lee was decommissioned in 1983. But the most prominent commemoration of Lee on federal property is the general’s mansion overlooking the Potomac River on the grounds of Arlington National Cemetery. The house was designated a “permanent memorial” to Lee by Congressional action in 1955, with the Congress citing his purported “desire and hope … for peace and unity within our nation.”
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