The Rev. Jim Watkins and Roxie Column: What's In A Name?

Jim Watkins

“Jim how is your treatment going?”

“Thanks for asking Rox. I’m now radioactive.”

“Radioactive! Let me get my geiger counter and hazmat suit! Do you glow in the dark?”

“No. The radioactive materials in me are designed to kill cancer cells and leave healthy cells alone. But someone did tell me about a practical joker who put children’s glow in the dark play dough around the bathroom used by a cancer patient friend.”

“if I were that patient, I would have one less friend. Let’s change the subject or rather get back to the subject. Last time we talked about how important it is to listen to those who protest. Have you been listening?”

“ I have Roxie and have learned some things.”

“What did you learn that surprised you most?”

“An organization of fellow veterans approached me about joining in asking that military bases named for Confederate generals be renamed. The request struck a particular chord with me, Roxie. I entered active duty in the Army at Ft. Benning near Columbus, Ga. I went to the Infantry Officer’s Basic Course and Jump School there. Until the issue arose, I never thought about who Benning was named for.”

“Hmm. What did you find out?”

“Henry Benning was a Confederate general from Columbus. He was an attorney and judge before the Civil War. He was pro slavery, owning 89 slaves himself. He was a leader in the movement to get Southern states to leave the Union rather than facing a world where there was racial equality. In advocating for secession, he warned that if slavery was abolished, there would be black mayors, governors, juries,.... ”

“How did a United States Army post get named for him?”

“In 1918 as World War One was winding down, a training camp was established near Columbus. The leadership of the city urged it be named in honor of Benning. In the early 1920’s Camp Benning became Ft. Benning. That was the same time period when Jim Crow laws in the Southern states had institutionalized segregation and racial inequality. “

“Jim, it doesn’t sound like he is a good symbol for the values of the United States or the Army. What would the name be changed to?”

“Some folks are working on that Roxie. I would recommend a person like Oscar Chambers. Oscar was a young infantry officer who went through training with me. Oscar was black. Oscar was newly married. He served his country with honor and distinction. His name is on the Viet Nam Memorial Wall.”

“Wow Jim, that would be a positive symbol. Symbols are important. Do you think renaming of the posts will ever happen? What about those folks who say that history shouldn’t be messed with?”

“I’m going to contact public officials not only as a former infantry officer in the United States Army, but also as a descendent of a Confederate soldier. It is time to rename the posts.”

“Jim, sounds like listening has taught you something else. From my perspective, white humans pass by symbols of racism all the time and never notice. But black humans are more than aware of the symbols.”

“Amen Roxie. Let’s keep listening!”

The Rev. Dr. Jim Watkins lives in Pawleys Island. His column is published twice monthly.

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