Graduate student Connor Williams discusses his work as lead historian for a commission charged with renaming U.S. military assets commemorating the Confederacy.
Two years ago, Connor Williams, an advanced doctoral student in history and African American Studies at Yale, was invited to help reshape how Americans memorialize the U.S. Civil War.
Williams was selected to be lead historian of the Naming Commission (formally known as the Commission on the Naming of Items of the Department of Defense), an eight-member panel that the U.S. Congress charged with identifying all the nation’s defense assets that commemorate the Confederacy — including nine military bases in the South — and developing a plan to modify or rename them.
His job as lead historian was to ensure that the commissioners got their history right. He advised them as they considered renaming or altering the hundreds of U.S. Department of Defense assets — bases, roads, buildings, monuments, and military insignias — that celebrate those who betrayed the United States in defense of slavery. He also helped write the historical sections of their reports to Congress and recommended new names for some bases.
Earlier this year, Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III approved the commission’s recommendations, including the renaming of the nine bases, and ordered that the changes be implemented by Jan. 1, 2024.