A monumental portrait of the Confederate General Robert E. Lee is among the memorials and markers that may be removed from display at the US Military Academy (USMA) at West Point, New York, per the recommendation of a Congressional commission charged with assessing the display of Confederacy-affiliated assets at US military bases.
The Naming Commission was established last year to issue recommendations for items or names across the Department of Defense that “commemorate the Confederate States of America or any person who served voluntarily with the Confederate States of America”, including bases, statues, and streets. Last month, the eight-panel committee submitted a 103-page report in which it suggested renaming nine Army bases honoring Confederate military officers.
In its last report, released on August 29, the committee addressed assets ranging from plaques to paintings and reliefs at USMA and the United States Naval Academy (USNA) in Annapolis, Maryland. Many items were recommended to be renamed, while others should be altered or removed. The roll call of graduates is the only asset that the committee advised be left unchanged.
“The Commissioners do not make these recommendations with any intention of ‘erasing history’,” the report states. “The facts of the past remain and the Commissioners are confident the history of the Civil War will continue to be taught at all Service academies with all the quality and complex detail our national past deserves. Rather, they make these recommendations to affirm West Point’s long tradition of educating future generations of America’s military leaders to represent the best of our national ideals.”
At the USNA, the Commission suggested that Buchanan House, Buchanan Road, and Maury Hall, be renamed. The former two sites memorialize the Confederate admiral Franklin Buchanan, whose “efforts killed hundreds of US Navy sailors”, according to the report. Maury Hall honors Matthew Fontaine Maury, a prominent oceanographer and climatologist who “viewed African Americans as unworthy of life, liberty or the pursuit of happiness,” states the report. “Maury envisioned a series of vast American territories in Central and South America, where enslaved humans would produce commodity crops like cotton, rubber and sugar.”
Robert E. Lee, who graduated from West Point and later served as its superintendent, is widely memorialized at the academy. The Commission called for references to and a quote by him be removed from USMA’s plaza, and for the renaming of West Point locations including Lee Barracks, Lee Road, and the Lee Gate. They also advised renaming Beauregard Place, which honors General P.G.T. Beauregard, who is described in the report as “an ardent supporter of enslavement, secession and rebellion.”
The Commission also notes that the memorialization of Confederate figures and events at the institutions began in the early 20th century and continued for the following decades as historical revisionists attempted to downplay the role of slavery in the American Civil War. Confederate-affiliated figures started appearing with greater frequency in public spaces in the forms of statues and street signs, among other markers. The panel notes that the schools began accepting such imagery “due to external pressures”.
A work at the Academy singled out by the report is a 1965 towering bronze memorial to graduates who served in the Second World War or the Korean War. Created by sculptor in Laura Gardin Fraser for the exterior of the Bartlett Hall Science Center, the triptych features some 150 historical figures including panels that honor several Confederate officers including Lee, Stuart, and Stonewall Jackson, which the commission recommend be modified or removed. The triptych also features a small, hooded member of the Ku Klux Klan.
A guide to Fraser’s artwork was published by West Point, in which she calls the Ku Klux Klan “an organization of white people who hid their criminal activity behind a mask and sheet.”
In a statement to the Washington Post, Military Academy officials described the Ku Klux Klan member as “a small section” of a larger panel titled “One Nation, Under God, Indivisible.” Fraser, who died in 1966, “wanted to create art that depicted ‘historical incidents or persons’ that symbolized the principal events of that time, thereby documenting both tragedy and triumph in our nation’s history.”
“Among many other symbols, the triptych also includes individuals who were instrumental in shaping principal events of that time, and symbols like the ‘Tree of Life’ that depict how our nation has flourished despite its tragedies,” the statement added.
The report’s authors note that they do not have the authority to recommend that the Klansman be removed from the triptych because it’s not technically a Confederate monument, but it does stress that “there are clearly ties in the KKK to the Confederacy.” The panel members instead “encourage” the Secretary of Defense to address military “assets that highlight the KKK.”
The Commission plans to release a third report by October 1 that covers the remaining DoD assets. All three reports will be sent to Congress and the Secretary of Defense, which is expected to implement a plan to address their recommendations by January 1, 2024.