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New York pols push to remove Confederate street names in Brooklyn (updated)

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“Memorializing Confederate generals has no place in 2017”

The Robert E. Lee plaque was installed in 1912 by the United Daughters of the Confederacy and will be removed this week.
AP Images / Kathy Willens

Following this weekend’s marches, protests, and attacks at a “Unite the Right” rally led by white nationalist groups in Charlottesville, Virginia, New York City lawmakers have renewed their push to rename two streets in Bay Ridge that are currently named for Confederate generals Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson and Robert E. Lee.

The streets in question are Stonewall Jackson Drive and General Lee Avenue, both of which are part of the Fort Hamilton Army base at the southern tip of the borough. The streets around the base, which is operated by the U.S. Army, are all named for famed generals of the U.S. armed forces—George Washington, George Marshall, John J. Pershing, etc.

Jackson and Lee were both stationed at Fort Hamilton in the 19th century, before the Civil War; however, neither man was ever a general in the United States Army, earning that title only after joining the Confederate States Army.

Lawmakers have been pushing for the change since 2015, following the massacre of nine black parishioners at a church in Charleston, South Carolina, and the subsequent removal of the Confederate flag from the state’s capitol. At that time, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries led the call to rename the two Brooklyn streets, saying that “there is no good reason for a street to be named after an individual who led the Confederate army in the fight to keep slavery and racial subjugation alive in America.”

The issue was brought to the fore earlier this year, when representatives from NYC (including Jeffries, Yvette Clarke, and Jerry Nadler), spurred by the removal of a statue of Lee in New Orleans, petitioned the U.S. Army to change the street names. The Army, however, claimed that doing so would be “controversial and divisive.”

“This is contrary to the nation’s original intent in naming these streets, which was in the spirit of reconciliation,” an Army official said.

But after the weekend’s events in Charlottesville—in which one person died and dozens more were injured after a white nationalist drove a car into a crowd of protestors—more lawmakers have voiced their support.

“Memorializing Confederate generals has no place in 2017, and certainly not in my neighborhood,” City Council candidate Khader El-Yateem told the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. “I fought to keep the Fort Hamilton Army Base open, and now I am fighting to keep it accountable.”

Meanwhile, a plaque commemorating Lee’s life in Brooklyn was removed from a nearby tree today; it was installed in 1912—nearly half a century after the Civil War ended—by the United Daughters of the Confederacy, a group long ambivalent about slavery, the war’s cause.

Update: Governor Andrew Cuomo has now voiced his support for renaming the two Bay Ridge Streets, noting in a letter to Ryan McCarthy, acting secretary of the U.S. Army, that “symbols of slavery and racism have no place in New York.”

His letter continues:

In our state, we condemn the language and violence of white supremacy in no uncertain terms. Unlike President Trump, we stand together to say that there are not many sides to hatred and bigotry; they do not belong in our communities and must be denounced for what they are. Renaming these streets will send a clear message that in New York, we stand against intolerance and racism, whether it be insidious and hidden or obvious and intentional.