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A Missed Opportunity to Honor Black Troops in Base Renaming Process

In the waning days of his presidency, Dwight D. Eisenhower addressed a formation of troops at the Army post here, making a brief stop while en route to the city’s other garrison: Augusta National. “I have long been wanting to visit Fort Gordon,” the celebrated general said, thanking them for supporting more than two dozen of his golf outings through two terms in the White House.

That was 1961. Sixty years later, after the murder of George Floyd inspired a sweeping reexamination of race in America, Congress directed the Pentagon to abolish all remaining vestiges of the military’s Confederate heritage, and rebrand its nine bases that continue to honor enslavers and secessionists such as Fort Gordon’s namesake. A renaming commission was appointed, describing its mission in part as a chance to better reflect the ranks by recognizing more people of color and women.

Five Black soldiers — a repudiation of John Brown Gordon himself — were among the diverse slate of 10 finalists presented to Augusta-area leaders in April. In the end, however, the commission chose to go in another direction entirely and rename the base after Eisenhower — bypassing the five Black candidates and other groundbreaking people of color.

That idea gained traction only after last-minute lobbying from some of the meeting’s attendees, according to people familiar with the gathering. Jim Clifford, city administrator for neighboring North Augusta, recalled someone suggesting Eisenhower would be a more desirable alternative and then “pretty much everyone else piled onto that.”

The unexpected outcome has both perplexed and rankled others who believe the selection of a prestigious White man is at best a missed opportunity, and at worst a failure of the renaming commission’s goal to not merely kill off the military’s racist relics but to elevate minorities in the process. Detractors say it looks like a bid to capitalize on Eisenhower’s association with Augusta National, a longtime symbol of racial division that did not admit its first Black member until 1990, nearly six decades after the golf course opened.

Bill Allison, a military history professor at Georgia Southern University, called it “a chamber-of-commerce-y decision.”

It is unclear how many people attended the April meeting, though a list obtained by The Washington Post shows 18 people RSVP’d yes, including 10 current or former military officials and four congressional staffers. That made it a more exclusive affair than an initial discussion, held in July 2021, to which nearly 40 area leaders — including minority groups, historians and business owners — were invited.

The legacy of Eisenhower, who led Allied forces against Nazi Germany and as president signed the first civil rights legislation since Reconstruction, is not in dispute. But people familiar with the renaming process have questioned whether his selection is a true reflection of the Augusta community’s desires and diversity, or a coup for a select, influential few with other aims.


In a statement, retired Brig. Gen. Ty Seidule, the commission’s vice chair, defended its approach to collecting community input and navigating what he called “local sensitivities,” saying it was clear from get-go there would never be total consensus.

“However,” he said, “no matter the feelings on any of the recommended names, we’re confident that each of them comes with a story that can be told with pride by those connected to these bases, because they all reflect the unmatched courage, values and sacrifices of the brave men and women serving in our Army.”

Read entire article at Washington Post