America’s military bases, the panel says on its website, should “appropriately reflect the courage, values and sacrifices of our diverse military men and women, with consideration given to the local or regional significance of names and their potential to inspire and motivate our service members.”
Located in Augusta, Fort Gordon is named after John Gordon, who commanded half of Robert E. Lee’s army for a time. Wounded five times at the Battle of Antietam, Gordon went on to represent Georgia in the U.S. Senate before serving as the state’s governor. He also owned slaves, fought Reconstruction and was generally recognized as the head of the Ku Klux Klan in Georgia.
Among the more than 1,400 recommendations the commission has received to replace Gordon’s name are President Dwight D. Eisenhower, Union Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman and Harriet Tubman.
Fort Benning, which sits just outside of Columbus, was named after Henry Benning, according to the New Georgia Encyclopedia. Nicknamed “Old Rock” for his steadfastness in battle, the Confederate general became an associate justice of the Georgia Supreme Court. He was an ardent secessionist before the war, warning that if slavery were abolished there would be “black governors, black legislatures, black juries, black everything.”
The commission has received more than 4,600 recommendations for renaming Fort Benning. Among the names submitted is Sgt. 1st Class Alwyn Cashe, who is expected to become the first African American recipient of the Medal of Honor for actions in Iraq or Afghanistan.
Cashe was on fire as he rushed to save his men in northern Iraq 16 years ago. A roadside bomb had just disabled his Bradley Fighting Vehicle, setting it ablaze. Cashe helped get his trapped soldiers and an Iraqi interpreter out of the wrecked vehicle. He died from his wounds three weeks later.
Cashe’s sister, Kasinal Cashe White, said she did not recommend Fort Benning be renamed after her brother but added her family would welcome the move.
“Everyone who would come through there would know his story and his name and take a piece of him with them,” she said.
Cliff Lovette, an amateur historian from Sandy Springs, has put forth Henry Flipper’s name. Born a slave in Thomasville in 1856, Flipper became the first Black man to graduate from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York, and to lead the Buffalo Soldiers of the 10th Cavalry.
Meanwhile, the Civil Rights and Restorative Justice Project at Northeastern University has teamed up with lawyers from the Morgan Lewis law firm in petitioning for Fort Benning to be renamed after Pvt. Felix Hall, a Black soldier who was lynched on the post in 1941.
“To honor Felix Hall, in whose name in a certain sense the Civil War was fought, just seems to us to be such an important symbol of what the Naming Commission is designed to accomplish,” said Rose Zoltek-Jick, associate director of the Civil Rights and Restorative Justice Project, which has extensively researched Hall’s case.
Others have recommended Gen. George C. Marshall; Gen. Colin Powell; and retired Col. Ralph Puckett, a Fort Benning hero who received the Medal of Honor this year for conspicuous gallantry during the Korean War.
Stephen Moore of Wilmington, North Carolina, created a website that supports renaming Fort Benning after his late parents, Hal and Julie Moore. Lt. Gen. Hal Moore fought valiantly in the Korean and Vietnam wars and coauthored the bestselling book, “We Were Soldiers Once… and Young.” He is buried at Fort Benning along with Julie, who is known for her unstinting support of military families.
“We do want it to be named for both Hal and Julie Moore,” Stephen Moore said. “Fort Benning needs a warfighter, and the family aspect is just so compelling because you are not going to have a competent, aggressive warfighter without knowing that their family back home is taken care of.”