United States Army bases have historically been named for white men. But as the military continues to grapple with its racist history, which came under more intense scrutiny after the 2020 police murder of George Floyd, the country’s defense department is taking a look inward and proposing new base names that primarily honor women and people of color.
The proposed names pay homage to people like Sergeant William Henry Johnson, a Black soldier who heroically fought off German troops during World War I and was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor, and Mary Edwards Walker, the Army’s first woman surgeon, who ultimately received the Medal of Honor for her bravery during the Civil War.
“Every name either originated from or resonated with the local communities,” said Brigadier General Ty Seidule, the naming commission’s vice chair, during a media call earlier this week, as quoted by the Washington Post’s Alex Horton and Karoun Demirjian.
Three of the proposed names honor white men. One invokes an abstract concept, Liberty, rather than a person or people. Siedule said he expects some people to disagree with the commission’s recommendations but defended the fact that the group “listened carefully to the communities in every case.”
Congress created the naming commission in 2021, as part of the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act. Per CNN, members of the public submitted more than 34,000 suggestions for new names; the commission then whittled the list down to 3,670 names, 87 names and—finally—the top 9 revealed this week.
Ultimately, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin will have the final word on the new names. In a statement, he says the suggestions “reflect the courage, values, sacrifices and diversity of our military men and women.” The commission will include the names in a final report to Congress that’s due October 1.
The commission is proposing that:
- Fort A.P. Hill in Virginia becomes Fort Walker
- Fort Polk in Louisiana becomes Fort Johnson
- Fort Bragg in North Carolina becomes Fort Liberty
- Fort Benning in Georgia becomes Fort Moore, after Lieutenant General Hal Moore and Julia Moore
- Fort Gordon in Georgia becomes Fort Eisenhower, after General Dwight D. Eisenhower
- Fort Hood in Texas becomes Fort Cavazos, after General Richard E. Cavazos
- Fort Lee in Virginia becomes Fort Gregg-Adams, after Lieutenant General Arthur J. Gregg and Lieutenant Colonel Charity Adams
- Fort Pickett in Virginia becomes Fort Barfoot, after Sergeant Van T. Barfoot
- Fort Rucker in Alabama becomes Fort Novosel, after CW4 Michael J. Novosel Sr.
After police murdered Floyd two years ago, calls grew louder for the U.S. military to reconsider the names of Army bases that celebrated Confederate leaders who fought to perpetuate slavery. Beyond failing to represent the makeup of an increasingly diverse Army, the names also served as a daily reminder of racism for the Black men and women serving the country, including Representative Anthony G. Brown, a Maryland Democrat and Army veteran.
“I learned to fly helicopters at Fort Rucker,” says Brown in a statement. “I deployed to Iraq from Fort Bragg, and I earned my jump wings at Fort Benning. All these bases honored men who wouldn’t want me or other Black Americans serving in uniform, let alone in Congress.”
Even some of the country’s highest military leaders felt it was time for a change. In 2020, Robert Gates, who served as defense secretary from 2006 to 2011, told the New York Times’ Peter Baker that Floyd’s killing presented the country with an opportunity to move forward.
“It’s always puzzled me that we don’t have a Fort George Washington or a Fort Ulysses S. Grant or a Fort Patton or a facility named for an African American Medal of Honor recipient,” Gates said.
Though women have long been part of the Army, zero Army installations are named after them. The commission’s three proposed names that honor women are a chance to right that wrong and acknowledge the contributions of female service members, past and present. In 2021, women made up more than 15 percent of the Army and more than 34 percent of its civilian workforce.
“The military is one of the most diverse institutions in our society,” historian Kara Vuic told Erin Blakemore of Smithsonian magazine in 2020. “Renaming bases might hold up a better standard that the Army can hold itself accountable to.”
It remains to be seen whether any of the new names will actually stick—and, if they do, how quickly the defense department moves to apply them to bases. But in the meantime, the country continues to require Black soldiers to live and work on bases named for racist leaders who “served to keep them in chains,” as Iraq War veteran Fred Wellman told Vox’s Alex Ward in 2020.