Statues and Fort Names: The Confederacy Revisited

The Story:

The civil war (1861 – 1865) has long been one of the defining tragedies of US collective memory. In this election year, statues of Confederate generals, the confederate battle flag, and the names of military bases that recognize confederate figures, have become newly contentious subjects. They are all seen by many black Americans as representing unrepentant white supremacy of the sort that once chased down runaway slaves and whipped the backs of the disobedient.


There has always been a good deal of historical debate about the role of slavery as a cause of the civil war. At a minimum, the political split between North and South leading up to the war had a lot to do with the questions of whether the western territories would be admitted to the union as slave or free states, and the related question of whether northerners were obliged to cooperate in the capture and return of runaways.

The Thing to Know: 

The Secretary of the Army, Ryan McCarthy, says that he is open to the idea of renaming the bases. But the President, who stands on the top rung of the chain of command, has said he “will not even consider” such a move. Some Republicans in the US Senate, though, are siding with McCarthy, and the intra-party politics of it may prove convoluted.

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