In the wake of a White Supremacist and Neo-Nazi rally held in Charlottesville, Virginia that resulted in three deaths last week, local leaders and community members are calling for the U.S. Army to rename two streets within Fort Hamilton Army Base that currently memorialize prominent Confederate Army generals.
On Tuesday, August 15, Reverend Khader El-Yateem, who founded Bay Ridge’s Salam Arabic Lutheran Church, joined activists and residents in front of Fort Hamilton’s main entrance (located at 101st Street and Fort Hamilton Parkway) to denounce Stonewall Jackson Drive and General Lee Avenue.
The demand comes as part of a wave of similar demands from communities nationwide, calling for the removal of monuments and street names that celebrate the Confederacy.
“We cannot claim to be fighting wars overseas and promoting democracy, equality and defending human rights while on our Army base, right here in our own neighborhood, we have signs that honor people who fought to preserve slavery in America,” said El-Yateem, who is also a candidate for the 43rd District Council seat.
El-Yateem specifically called upon Ryan McCarthy, acting secretary of the U.S. Army, to recognize that General Jackson and General Lee “were on the wrong side of history.”
Both Jackson and Lee were stationed at Fort Hamilton prior to the outbreak of the Civil War. According to El-Yateem, a plaque honoring Lee that is currently affixed to a tree on the property of St. John’s Episcopal Church (located on the corner of 99th Street and Fort Hamilton Parkway) will be removed by the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island in the near future.
The tree was originally planted in the 1960s, replacing a different tree planted by the New York Division of the United Daughters of the Confederacy in 1935. That tree replaced one planted by Lee himself, while he was stationed at Fort Hamilton as a post engineer beginning in 1842. The church, which was also known as the Church of the Generals, was attended by both Lee and Jackson.
Also present at the event was John Hagan, a community activist and teacher who lives in Bay Ridge.
“There is no doubt that Lee and Jackson fought for what they believed in. The problem with that argument is that what they believed in was wrong. What they believed in was vile, repugnant and immoral. What they believed in was a new country designed for the purpose of expanding and protecting the enslavement of four million African Americans,” said Hagan, who went on to call both Lee and Jackson treasonous.
The event concluded with a statement from community organizer and South Brooklyn resident Aber Kawas.
“We’re rightfully and deeply disturbed by the events of this last weekend,” said Kawas, referring to the White Supremacist rally in Charlottesville and its aftermath. “The rally this last weekend was a confirmation of the bitter reality that exists today in the United States that we must confront as a nation. Today, as we stand in the largest Arab-populated neighborhood in the city, we have to address the utter hate and disrespect that is going on in our neighborhood when two streets are named after Confederate soldiers.”
The street names have also been denounced by Brooklyn Congressmember Yvette Clarke, as well as 43rd District Council candidate and local activist Justin Brannan.
“I am disappointed that the Department of the Army will not even consider renaming these streets honoring Confederate generals who waged war against the United States. The department claims that the streets were named ‘in the spirit of reconciliation.’ But that ‘reconciliation’ was actually complicity by the North and the South to ignore the interests of African Americans and enforce white supremacy, effectively denying the result of the Civil War for generations,” said Clarke.
“Following this weekend’s events in Charlottesville, it’s critical that our community leaders take a firm and unyielding position against hatred and bigotry. White supremacy and racism have no place in the United States and certainly have no place in Bay Ridge. I am calling on all candidates for this seat, Democratic and Republican, to join this cause,” said Brannan.
Governor Andrew Cuomo later echoed the sentiment of the event, penning a letter to McCarthy on August 16 that urged the U.S. Army to reconsider its decision not to rename the streets.
“The events of Charlottesville and the tactics of white supremacists are a poison in our national discourse, and every effort must be made to combat them. Symbols of slavery and racism have no place in New York. 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,” said Cuomo.