Civilian Federal Buildings Are Named After Confederates, KKK Members and Segregationists, Too
Amid uproar over military bases, GSA also operates buildings named after individuals with racist pasts.
In recent weeks as protesters nationwide have demanded new steps to promote racial justice, pressure has mounted for the U.S. military to rename its bases that honor Confederate leaders and for local governments to remove monuments. A review of civilian federal buildings shows a number of offices and federal courthouses named after Americans with racist histories as well.
In a partial review of buildings operated by the General Services Administration, the agency that serves as the federal government’s real estate and property management arm, Government Executive has found at least a dozen named after Confederates, Ku Klux Klan members and staunch segregationists.
While Congress has taken some steps to rename military bases that honor Confederate soldiers who took up arms against the United States, President Trump has said he opposes such changes. GSA did not respond to a request for comment on the civilian buildings or the possibility of renaming them, which would likely require an act of Congress. Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., who oversees GSA and federal buildings as chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee’s panel on Government Operations, called for a change.
“The federal government must be a beacon of inclusivity,” Connolly said. “Having federal buildings named after Confederate generals and members of the KKK is shameful and they must be renamed.”
Here is a look at federal buildings named after officials with racist pasts:
- John A. Campbell U.S. Courthouse; Mobile, Ala.: Campbell resigned from the U.S. Supreme Court at the outbreak of the Civil War to accept a role as Confederate assistant secretary of war. After the war, Campbell fought as an attorney against reconstruction in the South.
- Clifford Davis - Odell Horton Federal Building; Memphis, Tenn.: Davis served as a Democratic congressman in Tennessee for 25 years. He first rose to political power with the support of the Ku Klux Klan, a group in which he was actively a member. Davis went on to become a signatory to the Southern Manifesto in 1956, a resolution introduced in Congress to decry Brown v. Board of Education’s mandate that states end segregation in schools.
- William M. Colmer Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse; Hattiesburg, Miss.: Colmer, a Democratic congressman, helped spearhead what became the Southern Manifesto, a document that implored southerners to use all "lawful means" to resist the "chaos and confusion" that school integration would cause. It was signed by 82 House members and 19 senators. He fought “tooth and nail” to block the passage of the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act in the 1960s, according to The New York Times. Of early court rulings against segregation, Colmer lamented there would be "an even increasing intermingling of negroes and whites in public places." Colmer went on to author a second manifesto in Congress that warned of “grave” dangers of federal legislation protecting civil rights.
- Thomas G. Abernethy Federal Building; Aberdeen, Miss.: Abernethy also signed the Southern Manifesto, as well as a letter to the administrator of Veterans Affairs in 1957 requesting VA segregate its medical facilities. A Democratic House member for 30 years, Abernethy left a significant trail of racist speeches and writings. In one such address on the House floor, Abernethy said, “There can be no dispute that a negro problem does exist in our country; that it exists in each and every section where negroes have collected in number; and that the problem is in proportion to the number in each area or city,” adding that, “for nearly 200 years we have lived in peace with our Black brethren of the South.” He went on to say God supported segregation. “Had he intended us to all be alike—an amalgamated, mulattoed mixture of man—surely he would have so created us.” Abernethy suggested the push for civil rights was part of a Zionist and communist conspiracy.
- Alton Lennon Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse; Wilmington, N.C.: Lennon, who served in both the Senate and House over 20 years, was the only southerner in Congress to vote against a measure citing the KKK for contempt of Congress, saying he never heard of a Klan member being subversive. Lennon called on the Justice Department to prosecute Black civil rights leader Stokely Carmichael for making anti-draft statements. He campaigned on a promise to “fight to preserve southern traditions” and “massive resistance” to desegregation, according to North Carolina historian John Godwin.
- Strom Thurmond Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse; Columbia, S.C.: Thurmond served in the Senate for 48 years and was one of the leading voices against desegregation and civil rights. He ran for president as a Dixiecrat in 1948 on a pro-segregation platform and vehemently opposed all civil rights legislation, launching the longest-ever speaking filibuster in an attempt to defeat the 1957 Civil Rights Act. When running for president, Thurmond said at one event, “There’s not enough troops in the Army to force the Southern people to break down segregation and admit the Nigra race into our theaters, into our swimming pools, into our homes, and into our churches.” While he served in the Senate through 2000, he never publicly renounced his segregationist views.
- J.L. McMillan Federal Building and Courthouse; Florence, S.C.: McMillan served in the House for more than 30 years. He spent two decades as head of the District of Columbia Committee, and “made little attempt to hide his contempt for the capital’s African-American majority,” according to John Lawrence, a long-time congressional staffer and author of "The Class of '74: Congress after Watergate and the Roots of Partisanship." When Washington’s black mayor sent the district’s first budget to Congress as it pushed for autonomous rule, McMillan responded by sending a truckload of watermelons to the mayor. McMillan was a signatory to the Southern Manifesto.
- Charles E. Bennett Federal Building; Jacksonville, Fla.: Bennett signed the Southern Manifesto and voted against most civil rights bills. He later claimed to have a change in conscience and voted in favor of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. In a speech on the House floor preceding that vote, however, he called Robert E. Lee “the greatest of all southerners.” He went on to win acclaim for his advocacy for disability rights and ethics in Congress.
- Paul G. Rogers Federal Building and Courthouse; West Palm Beach, Fla.: Rogers, a Democrat in the House for more than 20 years, signed onto the Southern Manifesto and repeatedly opposed civil rights legislation. He later became known for his work advancing medical research and health care services.
- George W. Andrews Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse; Opelika, Ala.: Andrews signed the Southern Manifesto as a congressman. He continued his opposition to desegregation, saying after a 1962 Supreme Court decision inhibiting school prayer, “They put the Negroes in the schools and now they've driven God out." In voicing opposition to the 1965 Voting Rights Act, he derided in Congress Martin Luther King Jr., and his supporters as “street performers” who were not actually interested in registering to vote. Of King and his attempt to march in Selma, Andrews said, "His record indicates that wherever he goes there is trouble. If he were to leave the state of Alabama today, in my opinion, there would be no further trouble." Of the “Bloody Sunday” events in which marchers were beaten by police, he said, “I am sorry human beings had to be policed into obedience.”
- Richard B. Russell Federal Building; Atlanta, Ga.: Russell, a senator for nearly 40 years, co-authored the Southern Manifesto. He led a boycott of the 1964 Democratic convention after President Johnson signed the 1964 Civil Rights Act, calling the landmark legislation, “shortsighted and disastrous.” Gilbert Fite, a historian who wrote a biography of Russell, said, “White supremacy and racial segregation were to him cardinal principles for good and workable human relationships. He had a deep emotional commitment to preserving the kind of South in which his ancestors had lived. No sacrifice was too great for him to make if it would prevent the extension of full equality to blacks.” One of the Senate office buildings next to the Capitol Building is also named after Russell.
- Prince H. Preston Federal Building; Statesboro, Ga.: Preston, a Democratic congressman, signed both the Southern Manifesto and the letter requesting VA segregate its hospitals.
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