The commission charged with renaming military bases that honor the Confederacy said it is uncertain whether Fort Belvoir will fall within its jurisdiction, its chair told InsideNoVa.
The commission has asked for additional historical study regarding the naming of the U.S. Army installation in southern Fairfax County, said Navy Admiral Michelle Howard, the chair.
After briefing House and Senate Armed Services Committee staffers this week, Howard told InsideNoVa that the commission has to determine which installations commemorate the Confederacy. At first glance, Howard said Belvoir was just named after a slave plantation of Lord Fairfax, but there’s more to it than that, because it was renamed from its original designation.
“It was originally Camp Humphreys, named after a Union general, and then it's not until 1935 that there's this name change,” Howard said. “So, the commission has hired an historian, and we've made a trip to Fort Belvoir, and we're looking into why was the name changed? Is this new name, ‘Fort Belvoir,’ actually a reflection of a decision to honor the Confederacy? And so our historian has made contact with local historians, and so we're looking into that.”
If the commission determines there’s not hard evidence that indicates that was part of the thought process, “then we'll say, ‘Hey, it's outside the remit of the commission,’” Howard said. She added that if historical evidence indicates it was an attempt to commemorate the Confederacy, then the commission will probably determine that renaming the base is within its purview.
The congressional commission is charged with providing recommendations for the removal or renaming of bases, ships and other Department of Defense assets that commemorate the Confederacy, or those who voluntarily served with the Confederacy.
Less in doubt are the other Virginia bases that are solidly in line for renaming: Fort A.P. Hill south of Fredericksburg, Fort Lee in Petersburg, and Fort Pickett in southside Virginia, all of which were named after soldiers who served in the Confederacy.
Howard said the commission has already conducted site visits, meeting with military, civilian and community stakeholders at Belvoir, Fort Lee and Fort A.P. Hill. She added that the most critical part of the effort has been listening to those with strong ties to the installations.
“We have heard directly from local chambers of commerce, historical genealogy societies, Rotary clubs, school board officials, local/national special interest groups, church leaders, business and many other organizations,” Howard said. “And on top of that we’ve met with individual active duty, reserve, retired, and other former service members with their families and neighbors and local communities.”
Howard said she hopes the commission will finish its site visits by the end of November.
Citizens are already making suggestions to the commission through its website. Howard said in just the first two weeks, the commission received more than 25,000 suggested names. The commission will continue to accept names through Dec. 1.
She said she is pleased with the diversity of suggested names.
“From what we’ve received from the communities and the website, the naming suggestions represent America,” Howard said. “There’s women, there’s people of color, some of the suggestions highlight people of lesser-known religious faiths. I think the hard part for the commission is going to be picking from the list.”