‘Fort Liberty’: Army More Than Half Done Scrubbing Confederate Names from Its Bases
The new name for Fort Bragg is a compromise between airborne and Special Forces, one source said.
This story was updated at 5:31 p.m.
The Army’s largest base will be officially renamed Fort Liberty on Friday following a once-politically controversial plan to ditch the Confederate Army namesakes of nine U.S. Army bases.
With the renaming of Fort Liberty, the effort is now just past its halfway mark, with three bases to go.
Some of the bases’ original namesakes were chosen to appeal to their surrounding populations, a Defense Department press release said.
Among the namesakes were Edmund Rucker, an obscure Confederate colonel who was related by marriage to a Alabama senator. Another namesake, Henry Benning, was vigorously pro-slavery, arguing in 1861 that abolition would mean that white southerners would “be completely exterminated, and the land will be left in the possession of the blacks, and then it will go back into a wilderness and become another Africa.” Braxton Bragg was a slave-owning Confederate general whose battlefield defeats and abrasive personality contributed to him being removed from his command.
New honorees include Sgt. William Johnson, a Black Medal of Honor awardee from World War I who fought off a German raiding party in part by driving a knife through an opponent's head; and Hal Moore and his wife Julia, who respectively led troops in fierce fighting in Vietnam and formed support groups for the wives of those killed in action in her husband’s unit.
Liberty is the only fort to honor a concept, not a human with a military record.
A source familiar with the commission’s deliberations told Defense One that the commission had recommended the base be renamed for Staff Sgt. Roy Benavidez, a Hispanic airborne soldier-turned-Green Beret who received a Medal of Honor in Vietnam.
Fort Bragg is home to Army Special Forces and the 82nd Airborne, and leaders of those units disliked Benavidez’s history in both units.
“There was some identity politics at work where the Special Forces community didn't want an airborne guy and the airborne community didn't want a Special Forces guy,” the source said.
Confederate symbols came under increased scrutiny after a mass shooting at a church in Charleston in 2015, in which a white man named Dylann Roof killed nine Black parishioners. Roof expressed white-supremacist views and displayed a Confederate flag in a photo.
Congress was moved to act in 2021, a year after widespread protests about the police killings of George Floyd and other unarmed Black people. Lawmakers established a commission to identify and recommend new names for Defense Department items that commemorate the Confederate States of America or those who fought for it.
The legislation was initially controversial. Then-President Donald Trump vetoed the bill containing the commission legislation, but was overridden by large majorities in both houses of Congress.
Kori Schake, a director of foreign and defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute who served on the naming commission, said she was surprised the commission was not even more controversial, given the broader context of culture wars in the United States.
Among these controversies are recent stand-offs between Congressional Republicans and the military over whether the military is being too “woke.”
Schake credited the success to the commission’s outreach to Army communities and to the heroism of the new honorees.
She said the conversations were tense at times. Schake’s own mother challenged her as to whether the renamings would open the door to reconsidering the legacy of prominent Americans such as George Washington.
Leaders at Fort Bragg, in particular, expressed concern that the base might be yet again renamed if political sensibilities continue to evolve, Schake said.
“Fort Bragg was a community that had a very strong view: they were worried about having to rename the base again in the future,” Schake said.
When conversation became heated, though, Schake said the commission’s leaders brought the discussion back around to the value of respecting diversity.
During a meeting at Fort Hood, one soldier stood up and objected to the renaming.
Commission chair and retired U.S. Navy four-star admiral Michelle Howard responded by telling the story of Jackie Robinson, the first Black baseball player to play in the Major Leagues, who was court-martialed while serving at Fort Hood for refusing to give his seat on a bus to a White soldier.
“‘Imagine if the Army had been able to keep the leadership that Jackie Robinson provided to baseball?’” Howard said, according to Schake. “That really let the air out of the opposition.