Fort Hamilton, at the southern tip of Brooklyn, is as an active duty U.S. Army installation and is not often seen by the public. Its streets, all named after historical military figures, are rarely driven through by non-military personnel. But within the context of recent events, New York City Deputy Mayor J. Phillip Thompson is calling for the removal of two street names inside Fort Hamilton: General Lee Avenue, for Confederate General Robert E. Lee, and Stonewall Jackson Drive, for the Confederate General nicknamed “Stonewall” for his defensive actions during the First Battle of Bull Run. Both men spent time in Fort Hamilton while serving the U.S. Army in the 1840s.
The Deputy Mayor also has a personal stake — his ancestor was a slave at the plantation of Robert E. Lee’s father. Thompson says, “This issue is an emotional issue for many people like me, and it’s really hard for us to really feel fully part of this country that celebrates our ancestors’ enslavement with names like that on military bases all across this country.”
Canons inside Fort Hamilton greeting the arrival of the first boat in Fleet Week 2018. Photo by Erica Price Photography
It’s not the first time such a request has been made, nor is the movement to change names isolated to New York City. Any change at Fort Hamilton would require action by the U.S. Army rather than New York City government or the mayor. In 2017, after the events in Charlottesville, New York Congresswoman Yvette Clarke, Mayor Bill de Blasio, and others called for the removal of General Lee Avenue. At that time, the U.S. Army responded that the streets are named after soldiers from U.S. history and that “these historic names represent individuals, not causes or ideologies. It should be noted that the naming occurred in the spirit of reconciliation, not division.” At yesterday’s press conference, Mayor de Blasio reiterated his thoughts, “Nothing should be named after Robert E. Lee at this point in history.”
Other familiar names inside Fort Hamilton include MacArthur Road, Roosevelt Lane, Sheridan Loop, and Washington Drive (for General Douglas MacArthur, either or both Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Civil War General Philip Sheridan, and George Washington). There’s a Pence Street too, presumably for the father of Vice President Mike Pence who was awarded a Bronze Star for his actions in the Korean War while serving the U.S. Army. We have not been able to discern exactly when Pence Street was named.
Next, read about where there used to be a Hitler Street in New York and check out 18 of NYC’s former military forts.