August 03, 2020

Gillibrand Calls On Secretaries Of Defense And Army To Rename Confederate Monuments In New York

U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee Personnel Subcommittee, recently sent a letter to Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy requesting to rename the streets General Lee Avenue and Stonewall Jack Drive at Fort Hamilton, Brooklyn. In the letter, Gillibrand also calls to remove the portraits of confederate General Robert E. Lee in the cadet mess hall and library at the United States Military Academy at West Point (USMA), as well as rename Lee Gate, Lee Barracks, and Lee Road. 

Key excerpts from the letter:

“As you are aware, the United States military, as a whole, is more diverse than the United States itself. As our military leadership echoes, the ability to recruit and retain people of all races, ethnicities, religions, and sexual orientations to defend our shared values is a comparative advantage against other nations. By maintaining the legacy of Confederate leaders at our military installations, we undermine the high standards we expect from our service members, as well as the values enshrined in our Constitution dedicated to equality among people of all walks of life that we seek to defend.

Fort Hamilton and West Point are home to our service members who embody the highest ideals of our nation. It is these ideals that need to be celebrated. Commemoration and remembrance at these institutions should pay tribute to the morals of our country, along with the ideals and values that our armed forces fight to preserve every day.” 

People of color comprise 30 percent of the active duty force across the country, and about 24 percent of the reserve force. New York ranks in the top ten states with the highest number of Reserve and Guard troops. 

Joined by 35 Senate Democrats, Senator Gillibrand previously introducedThe Removing Confederate Names and Symbols from Our Military Actwhich would require the Secretary of Defense to remove all names, symbols, displays, monuments, and paraphernalia that honor or commemorate the Confederate States of America, or any person who served voluntarily with the Confederate States of America, from all assets of the Department of Defense. It also prohibits the future display of any name, symbol, display, monument or paraphernalia that honors or commemorates the Confederate States of America or any person who served voluntarily. 

Representatives Max Rose (D-NY) and Yvette Clarke (D-NY) have previously called for the streets in Fort Hamilton to be renamed.

Read the full text of the letter below:

Dear Secretary Esper and Secretary McCarthy:

I write to encourage you to rename the streets General Lee Avenue and Stonewall Jackson Drive at Fort Hamilton, Brooklyn. I also urge you to remove the portraits of Confederate General Robert E. Lee in the cadet mess hall and library at the United States Military Academy (USMA) at West Point, and urge you to rename Lee Gate, Lee Barracks, and Lee Road. These memorials have too long been present in our nation’s esteemed military installments.  Now more than ever, New York must  lead the way in correcting this injustice and reflecting the desire of our diverse communities nationwide.

As you know, two of the Confederacy’s top military leaders, Robert E. Lee and Thomas Jackson, commanded armies responsible for killing thousands of American service members in order to preserve the institution of slavery.  Officers who fought for the Confederacy violated every oath and value that West Point teaches its cadets by committing treason against their country and USMA is the last place that they should be honored. No matter the intent behind erecting the memorials to these Confederate leaders, they serve as stark reminders of racism and the systemic oppression of Black Americans. For Black service members and other people of color stationed at these locations, the ongoing presence of Lee and Jackson serves as a glorified reminder of our country’s racist past and undermines morale and unity within the ranks. The presence of Confederate memorials is especially problematic when considering nearly half of service members of color report witnessing racism in the military.

As you are aware, the United States military, as a whole, is more diverse than the United States itself. As our military leadership echoes, the ability to recruit and retain people of all races, ethnicities, religions, and sexual orientations to defend our shared values is a comparative advantage against other nations. By maintaining the legacy of Confederate leaders at our military installations, we undermine the high standards we expect from our service members, as well as the values enshrined in our Constitution dedicated to equality among people of all walks of life that we seek to defend.

Fort Hamilton and West Point are home to our service members who embody the highest ideals of our nation. It is these ideals that need to be celebrated. Commemoration and remembrance at these institutions should pay tribute to the morals of our country, along with the ideals and values that our armed forces fight to preserve every day.

Sincerely,