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A naming commission is considering thousands of new names for Southern Army bases

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Some army bases across the South are getting rid of names that honor the Confederacy. This comes after the protests about George Floyd's killing prompted Congress to re-examine Confederate symbols. Now potential new names are beginning to emerge. Here's Jay Price of member station WUNC.

JAY PRICE, BYLINE: The names have come in a flood. The so-called naming commission has collected more than 5,000 in just a few weeks of soliciting them online. Commission Chairwoman Michelle Howard says a priority, though, has been getting input in person from the communities around the bases.

MICHELLE HOWARD: 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.

PRICE: And active duty and retired troops. The names fall into several categories, like heroes or key leaders associated with the base or inspiring words like victory, some aspect of local geography or something that describes the base's military role. In North Carolina, some have suggested sticking with Fort Bragg and saying it's now named for Union General Edward Bragg instead of his cousin, Confederate general and slave owner Braxton Bragg. Howard, a retired admiral, said the commission will consider all suggestions, but a similar idea drew criticism during a meeting at Georgia's Fort Gordon.

HOWARD: I will tell you there were other members of the community who then stood up and said, you know, if you do that, there's some of us who would like to see new names, and if you use the same name, then you almost undo what they thought the intention of the law is.

PRICE: The law to remove Confederate names came as racial justice protests across the country prompted more scrutiny of institutional racism. The law doesn't flatly say the new names must be diverse, but Howard, who herself is Black, said the suggestions should make that possible.

HOWARD: There's women. There's people of color. Some of the suggestions highlight people of lesser known religious faiths. So I think the hard part for the commission is going to be picking from the list. But certainly the number of suggestions we've received, that's not going to be an issue.

PRICE: Around Fort Rucker, Ala., a popular choice for a new namesake is Lieutenant Colonel Michael Novosel, a Medal of Honor winner who fought in three wars and was a highly decorated member of the local community. Novosel was white. William Cooper, the mayor of nearby Enterprise, says Novosel's race shouldn't matter if he's the best candidate. Cooper, who's Black, said while locals do want input, the important thing is the base's overwhelming local economic impact.

WILLIAM COOPER: We would just continue to support the base, whatever the name is, because its mission, you know, is to train aviators. So really and truly, that will have no effect on that. So whatever name is all right with us.

PRICE: In Killeen, Texas, Mayor Jose Segarra says several names have emerged for Fort Hood; among them, Medal of Honor winner Staff Sergeant Roy Benavidez and General Richard Cavazos, the first Hispanic four-star general. During a virtual town hall last month for Fort Bragg, an Army spouse questioned spending millions of dollars on the renaming. Retired Major General Rodney Anderson, who's Black, said there are different kinds of costs.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RODNEY ANDERSON: But I understand that there are associations with the name Bragg. I have a strong association with the name Bragg. But there's also a level of pain in honoring the Confederacy and someone who was a traitor and a slave owner, I might add. And so that brings me great pain and distress when I think of it. So that's the other perspective.

PRICE: The commission will stop accepting suggestions online December 1 and begin narrowing the list. It has one year to submit its final recommendations. For NPR News, I'm Jay Price at Fort Bragg, N.C. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.