(CNN) — On Monday, our nation will celebrate Juneteenth, which commemorates when America’s last enslaved people learned of their freedom on June 19, 1865, in Galveston, Texas, from Union troops, more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation.
In 2021, President Joe Biden signed legislation that designated Juneteenth a federal holiday, declaring that “all Americans can feel the power of this day and learn from our history — and celebrate progress and grapple with the distance we’ve come (and) the distance we have to travel.”
Despite the president’s hope that Americans can “celebrate progress,” two 2024 GOP presidential candidates, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and former Vice President Mike Pence, are attempting to take our nation backward by vowing to rename a military base in North Carolina in honor of Braxton Bragg, a slave-owning, former Confederate general.
Fort Bragg became Fort Liberty earlier this month as part of a push to remove the names of Confederate leaders from military bases in the wake of protests over the police killing of George Floyd.
Vowing to revert back to the name of Fort Bragg, DeSantis declared June 9 at North Carolina’s GOP state convention: “It’s an iconic name and iconic base, and we’re not gonna let political correctness run amok in North Carolina.” At the same Republican gathering, Pence echoed that pledge a day later, stating, “We will end the political correctness in the hallways of the Pentagon, and North Carolina will once again be home to Fort Bragg.”
The promise of these two Republicans to rename a base after the slave-owning, traitorous Bragg is despicable. While Bragg graduated from West Point and served in the US military at one point, by the time of the Civil War, he owned a Louisiana sugar plantation and 105 enslaved people. Confederate President Jefferson Davis asked Bragg to leave his plantation and serve as a general.
Bragg led armed forces that waged war on US troops. At the 1863 Battle of Chickamauga alone — where Bragg was uncharacteristically successful in defeating Union forces — patriotic US soldiers suffered 16,000 casualties.
As Bruce Levine, an emeritus history professor at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and author of several books on the Civil War, explained to Politifact.com, “Bragg enthusiastically, if poorly, helped lead an armed insurrection against the United States government that tried to break up the Union and preserve slavery.”
DeSantis and Pence are just following the lead of former President Donald Trump who, when in office, repeatedly defended naming the base after Bragg as well as defending other bases named to honor former Confederate officers. Trump even threatened to veto the bipartisan defense funding bill Congress passed in 2020 that included renaming military bases that bore the name of Confederate generals, tweeting at the time: “I will Veto the Defense Authorization Bill … which will lead to the renaming (plus other bad things!) of Fort Bragg, Fort Robert E. Lee, and many other Military Bases. …”
Trump eventually did veto the sweeping defense bill, but Congress overrode that veto in early 2021, eventually paving the way to start renaming nine military bases that honored Confederate officers. Around the time of Trump’s veto threat, in June 2020, a Quinnipiac University poll found that 86% of Republicans opposed renaming the bases, while 81% of Democrats favored renaming them.
That may explain why DeSantis and Pence — who are both trailing Trump by large numbers for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination — would raise an issue that’s not likely on the radar of non-Republicans.
What we are seeing today from some GOP leaders was perfectly summed up when Biden gave the commencement address at Howard University in May. “We know that American history has not always been a fairy tale,” the president told the graduating class at one of our nation’s most prestigious historically Black colleges.
“From the start, it’s been a constant push and pull for more than 240 years between the best of us, the American ideal that we’re all created equal — and the worst of us, the harsh reality that racism has long torn us apart.” He added, “It’s a battle that’s never really over.”
Indeed, these Republicans’ attempt to revisit the removal of Confederate names from military bases proves this battle pitting the best of America versus the worst shows no signs of letting up.