BLACKSTONE, Va. (AP) — Civil War history casts a long shadow in Virginia, the birthplace of Confederate generals, scene of their surrender and now a crossroad of controversy over renaming military bases that honor rebel leaders.
In and around Blackstone, about 50 miles (80 kilometers) southwest of Richmond, that shadow can stir passions when talk turns to nearby Fort Pickett. Some are troubled by Congress requiring the Pickett name be dropped as part of a wider scrubbing of military base names that commemorate the Confederacy or honor officers who fought for it. In all, the names of at least nine Army bases in six states will be changed.
Others here say it’s high time to drop the names.
“Change them!” says Nathaniel Miller, a Black member of the town council who was stationed at Pickett after he returned from Vietnam in 1973. “It should have happened a long time ago,” he says, because the names are a reminder of slavery and a period in American history when Black people had no voice.
Fort Pickett’s namesake is Maj. Gen. George E. Pickett, best remembered for a failed Confederate assault at Gettysburg that became known as Pickett’s Charge. He was a Virginia native and a West Point graduate who resigned his U.S. Army officer commission shortly after the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861.
The push to rename Fort Pickett and other bases is part of a national reckoning with centuries of racial injustice, triggered most recently by the May 2020 police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. For years, the military defended the naming of bases after Confederate officers; as recently as 2015 the Army argued that the names did not honor the rebel cause but were a gesture of reconciliation with the South.
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