FORT BRAGG, 7/9/21 — Should Fort Bragg be renamed? When that question came up in June 2020, it divided the seaside town and set off a controversy with national reverberations.
Now, the independent Citizens Commission created last September to study the issue wants people who live in the 95437 zip code to give opinions in a survey found on the city of Fort Bragg’s website: city.fortbragg.com as part of a process of finally deciding whether to recommend to the City Council whether the name should be changed.
The survey has prompted renewed controversy and emotion, with more likely to come.
As Black Lives Matters protests rocked the nation following the May 25, 2020 murder of George Floyd in Minnesota, there were moves all over to remove Confederate names, statues and symbols as racist.
Requests were made to the Fort Bragg City Council to change the town’s name and the council eventually scheduled a meeting solely to hear about that topic. It was the only in-person Council meeting held that summer, during the heart of the pandemic.
The town was named for Braxton Bragg, an American soldier who fought in the Mexican-American war, and who later became a Confederate general and owned slaves. The idea of a new name for the old town thrilled some, who wished to remove what they saw as a historical disgrace and a way to make the town more inclusive. The idea outraged many others, who saw it as needless and expensive effort that hits at the heart of their lives and memories. Both groups have been vociferous and numerous.
The City Council is not involved in oversight of Fort Bragg’s Citizens Commission on Name Change, which has been working on the name change question since it was formed in September. An Ad-Hoc council committee selected the members but the Commission is intended to be independent of the council and not require its approval.
The Commission now wants input from anybody who lives within the 95437 zip code, the area where addresses could be changed if there was a name change.
Fort Bragg Vice Mayor Jessica Morsell-Haye has chaired the Commission throughout. The group was picked to represent a wide variety of community perspectives and remains deadlocked on the key question nine months in.
The Commission held its 15th meeting Tuesday night, with all those meetings closed to the public and held by Zoom. Morsell-Haye said nine people participated in the last meeting this week. The Commission started with 20 members, which includes Morsell-Haye and Mayor Bernie Norvell. Two people resigned and Ed Murrell, a beloved community figure, passed away, she said.
Morsell-Haye said average attendance is 12 or 13 people and she hopes for greater participation as the Commission moves forward with the results of the survey. She says the Commission plans to make a report to the Council no later than November of this year.
“To have your input considered, please respond by July 31. If you prefer to hand-write your response look for a paper copy in your July utility bill, print this form, or pick one up at City Hall. Paper forms can be dropped off at City Hall (416 N. Franklin Street),” the city press release about the new survey stated.
Among the questions the survey asks is:
“What do you think about keeping the name Fort Bragg but rededicating it to a different historic figure with the same last name?” The idea of switching to a Bragg with a more wholesome past was floated as a compromise last year.
The survey asks the respondent how he or she feels about renaming the city, rated on a scale from 1 to 5. The survey also asks the reasons for and against name change but does not seek suggestions for a new name. There is a blank at the end of the survey that asks: “Is there anything else you want to tell the Citizens’ Commission?”
Morsell-Haye said the divided Commission hasn’t made any recommendation on whether or not to suggest to the Council to change the name and thus it would be premature to suggest replacement names.
Morsell Haye had planned to push for closed meetings of the Commission followed by a period of open meetings where the public could talk directly to the Commission before a final recommendation was delivered to the Council.
That plan has changed.
“I had originally envisioned it as incorporating public meetings. But with the way the process has gone, the community questionnaire has emerged as the most effective and efficient way to get as many voices to the table as possible,” Morsell-Haye said.
In order to get the word out, the survey will also be promoted on social media.
The renewed proposal has already been getting some passionate responses. “I have already been receiving some lovely screenshots of closed groups,” she said, saying those included some rude comments…”That’s fine if they want to do that and then fill out the questionnaire, we will get their input,” she said.
The Commission will analyze all the input and prepare a report for the city council, with the input helping guide any vote by the Citizens Commission.
Lt. Horatio G. Gibson established a military post to “control” local Native people in 1857. Gibson named the fort after Bragg, his former commanding officer in the Mexican-American War. The commission includes several Native members.