Debate over statues, street names revived in NY amid protests

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BAY RIDGE, Brooklyn — As protests continue throughout the country following the death of George Floyd, many are reflecting on historical symbols of racism and hate in their own communities.

Now, some are questioning statues and street names in New York.

At Fort Hamilton Army Garrison in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn there are streets named in honor of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. The Confederate leaders fought on the side of slavery. Local lawmakers are calling on the army to rename these streets and looking at other symbols around the city.

After protesters destroyed statues of Christopher Columbus in Virginia and Massachusetts, on Thursday New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo responded to questions about removing the statue from Columbus Circle.

“I understand the feeling about Christopher Columbus and some of his acts which nobody would support, but the statue has come to represent and signify appreciation for the Italian-American contribution to New York and so for that reason I support it,” Cuomo said.

Less than three years ago, New Yorkers were asking the same questions after protests and riots erupted over statues in Charlottesville, Virginia. At the time, leaders at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Bay Ridge took down a plaque remembering Robert E. Lee’s visits to the church.

At one point Lee was an engineer at nearby Fort Hamilton before joining the Confederacy. In 2017, there was some discussion about renaming General Lee Avenue at Fort Hamilton but it never happened.

Now in light of recent protests, Mayor Bill de Blasio and other lawmakers are renewing calls to change the name.

“His name should be taken off everything in America period,” de Blasio said.

Congressional Reps. Max Rose and Yvette Clarke have also reached out to Defense Secretary Mark Esper, calling on the Army to rename General Lee Avenue and Stonewall Jackson Drive on the base.

The request came after President Trump rejected calls to rename other military bases around the country.

But Brooklyn Historian Ron Schweiger says taking down statues and renaming streets won’t erase the past.

“They represent a part of history, whether it’s New York history or American History. Whether you like it or not what they thought of, what they did, it’s still part of the history,” Schweiger said.

Schweiger admits, however, that now is the time to have the conversation.

“Depends upon the person, what they did, how much of their history is involved behind it. It’s worth discussing, definitely worth discussing.”

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