The Confederate army commander, who served as superintendent from Sept. 1, 1852, to March 31, 1855, before breaking away from the Union, has a long and complicated history with West Point. His name and likeness are all over the New York campus, from street signs to another portrait hanging in the dining hall. But the portrait of the library has come under particular scrutiny.
Other portrayals of Lee as superintendent, prior to the Civil War, are more of a gray area. A portrait, donated to the academy by the Daughters of the Confederacy in 1931 and displayed in the dining hall, depicts Lee in his blue American military uniform.
The commission should recommend that West Point — which is now led by the first black superintendent in its history, Army Lt. Gen. Darryl Williams — remove anything that commemorates Lee in association with the Confederacy, one of the people said. . Anything “historical” that commemorates Lee when he was superintendent can stay. A commission spokesperson declined to comment.
The commission will submit its recommendations, which have not yet been finalized, in a written report to Congress by October 1, as required by the Fiscal Year 2021 National Defense Authorization Act. Congress and Defense Minister Lloyd Austin, the nation’s first black defense secretary, must approve the recommendations.
What to do with Lee’s performances at West Point is just one of many questions the commission will face in the coming months. The eight-member group is tasked with reviewing a long list of Department of Defense “assets” that commemorate the Confederate States of America, including 10 honoring Lee at West Point alone.
After receiving more than 34,000 submissions during a public comment period, the group released its recommendations last month for renaming nine Army bases that commemorate Confederate leaders.
Austin said in a statement at the time that he was “pleased” to see the group’s progress.
“Today’s announcement highlights the Commission’s efforts to come up with nine new facility names that reflect the courage, values, sacrifices and diversity of our service men and women,” Austin said.
A Black Army officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive topic, welcomed the recommendation, noting that West Point should strive to develop “better leaders who can learn from history.” and not repeat it”.
“The Civil War was undoubtedly a turning point and for some a painful moment in history,” the officer said. “Removing symbols from public spaces that underscore a racist ideology is one of the best fundamental ways to bring a broken nation together.”
As of October 2019, 63% of cadets were white, while only 12% identified as black.
The creation of the commission was one of the reasons then-President Donald Trump vetoed the NDAA 2021 in December 2020, resulting in the first waiver of his presidency by Congress. Trump gave the commencement speech at West Point in June 2020 amid controversy over the renaming of bases and accusations that he was politicizing the armed forces.
After the January 2021 waiver, the Trump administration appointed four people to the commission, including several loyal to the former president. President Joe Biden’s Secretary of Defense Austin removed all of those members.
Retired Adm. Michelle Howard, the Navy’s first four-star female admiral and the first black woman to command a Navy ship, is now chair, and panel members include retired Gen. Thomas Bostick, West Point’s first black graduate to serve as Chief of Engineers of the U.S. Army and Commanding General of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The most high-profile decision of the group’s initial recommendations is the renaming of Fort Bragg in North Carolina, the headquarters of the Army’s Special Operations Command and the headquarters of the Army’s XVIII Airborne Corps, which bears the name of Confederate General Braxton Bragg. If the proposal passes, the base would be renamed Fort Liberty, in commemoration of “the American value of freedom.”
Some critics have argued that the name is too bland and that the base should be renamed after someone who served the community. But the local community has been a strong advocate for Fort Liberty, people familiar with the discussions said.
“The Naming Commission sought to find names that would inspire the soldiers and civilians who serve in our Army positions, and the communities that support them,” said Howard, president of the commission, in a statement when the names were released last month. .
Although the commission’s other recommendations have yet to be approved, there is already opposition to the removal of Lee’s portraits from West Point.
“What bothers me is when you woke up politically correct liberals trying to erase history,” the senator said. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) Told Fox News’ “Tucker Carlson Tonight” in 2020.
“West Point is not just a military academy. It is, essentially, a US Army museum. And the cadets there need to know their history,” Cotton said. “That’s why they have a series of portraits of every superintendent at West Point. Robert E. Lee was one of these superintendents, from 1852 to 1855.”