FORT BRAGG, 6/5/23 — A contest for Fort Bragg High School students has generated more controversy than any charitable awards in memory. Meanwhile, a well known scholarship has so far gone unclaimed. Unclaimed is the $1,000 scholarship from the Paul Bunyan Association, slated for a local student interested in a career in forestry or related industries. The deadline has been extended to July 1. Applications can be sent to the Paul Bunyan Association, P.O. Box. 2282, Fort Bragg, 95437.
The controversial award is an essay contest about changing the name of Fort Bragg to eliminate the name of Confederate General Braxton Bragg, The name change idea made national news broadcasts a few years back when cities around the country were debating the use of names of Confederate heroes and statues in their honor. This resulted in a Fort Bragg City Council meeting in 2020 that lasted past midnight. Months of meetings and effort went into the issue locally, as the Black Lives Matter movement gained steam nationally and in Mendocino County.
Change Our Name, a recently formed Fort Bragg nonprofit, handed out checks totaling $1,500 to the two winning essayists, both Fort Bragg High School students, on Saturday, June 3, at 5 p.m. in a ceremony held at the Pacific Textile Arts patio. It was made clear that these are not scholarships, as scholarships count against a student’s financial aid package, organizers said.
The name change issue has been Fort Bragg’s version of the culture wars, with each side of the debate rallying people either against or for a name change they both make sound possible in the foreseeable future. But there is no indication that any government body in Fort Bragg is interested in changing the town’s name or the name of schools. The Fort Bragg City Council held a year-long process that included local Native people and a wide-ranging discussion. The effort ended with the council seeking to expand knowledge of real local history and real Native American history. The council also closed the door on further name change discussions.
Last week, the name of Fort Bragg, North Carolina, a military base, was changed to Fort Liberty, an issue engendering much discussion on social media, including in Fort Bragg. The military often changes the name of its facilities as it evaluates whether the name fits with the military mission of the United States. After the eruption of BLM protests following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, the Joint Chiefs of Staff decided that having facilities named after Confederates didn’t serve the modern Armed Forces and its need for a diverse fighting force.
Changing the names of cities is a much bigger deal and hardly ever happens in the United States. No cities were renamed to remove Confederates, generals or otherwise.
But what about schools?
Schools, however, are a different matter, and that is where Change Our Name is currently focused. In Atlanta, Forrest Hills Academy – named after Confederate general and founder of the Ku Klux Klan Nathan Bedford Forrest – is now Hank Aaron New Beginnings Academy. In Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Lee Magnet School is now Liberty Magnet School. Victor Arnautoff’s thirteen-panel mural, “The Life of Washington,” first became controversial in Northern California and then created a national media firestorm. On display since San Francisco’s George Washington High School opened in 1936, the mural was controversial in its day for some of its negative depictions of Washington. In the recent controversy over that mural, conquered Native Americans lying dead were among the images that compelled many activists to demand the artwork be removed. But others, of all races, contended that erasing the reality of history is a bad idea.
In 2016, Long Beach Unified and San Diego Unified both renamed elementary schools named for Confederate general Robert E. Lee. In 2019, the Dixie School District and an elementary school in Marin County were renamed Miller Creek. There, the community was also split, with supporters of the name claiming it was named for a Native woman with the last name Dixie. But the name was selected in the midst of the Civil War. During the 1950s and ‘60s, many Southern schools were renamed by segregationists to honor Confederate heroes. Those schools lost original names that had existed for more than a century. The schools in Southern California were named for Robert E Lee during that same period. But Fort Bragg was named prior to the Civil War.
Political winds keep shifting: in Virginia an effort is now underway to cancel name changes to schools, including a bid to bring back the name of a high school named for Stonewall Jackson.
Philip Zwerling, with Change Our Name, says the local effort to erase the name of Braxton Bragg has grown. The town was named for Bragg before he was a Confederate general by a man who had served under him and admired him. Historians generally assess Bragg as being an excellent, if compulsive officer, during his service to the United States. He is also considered one of the worst of the Confederate generals, by historians from North and South. After a series of blunders on the Western front of the Civil War, Bragg was relieved of command by Confederate President Jefferson Davis. Bragg was also a slave owner.
“We have grown from a handful of people meeting three years ago to a mailing list today of 330 supporters, which allowed us to incorporate as a nonprofit and raise the money for the essay contest prizes,” Zwerling said.
Last fall, the proposal to change the name was presented to a mostly disinterested Fort Bragg Unified School Board. The essay contest was launched, offering students the opportunity to write an essay either for or against the idea. The essay contest revived those against changing the name; a group has now assembled a petition to the Fort Bragg Unified School District in opposition to any name changes at local schools. One man who signed the petition, found here, https://www.change.org/p/keep-the-name-of-schools-fort-bragg-high-school-fort-bragg-middle-school-district-names?recruiter=27303708&recruited_by_id=e0b068b0-d2f0-012f-6f8a-4040ea65fa16&utm_source=share_petition&utm_medium=copylink&utm_campaign=petition_dashboard
gave his thoughts on why he is against the name change.
“My parents, my aunts, my uncles, myself, my five brothers and sisters, have all graduated from Fort Bragg High school, and now my grandchildren are attending or getting ready to attend Fort Bragg schools,” wrote Gary Koski of Fort Bragg. “The students are proud of their school, as are the past graduates of the school. The school name represents the name of the town in which it resides. The school board should be concentrating on the students and not wasting their time and throw out the idea completely.”
The essay contest kicked off in February 2023. Carmen Velazquez won first place and $1,000, while the second place essay was written by Josephine Erickson, who won $500. Students were allowed to argue against or for the name change. They both argued for it. Velazquez read her winning essay to the gathered crowd of over 30 people at the event. The essay can be read in full online here: https://www.changeournamefortbragg.com/winning-essay
Change Our Name says it is “dedicated to educating residents to the need to change the name of the city of Fort Bragg since the present name, adopted in 1881, includes both an homage to the military Fort which helped wage genocide against the local indigenous population and Braxton Bragg, who enslaved 105 men, women and children on his Louisiana plantation and later served as a General in the Confederate Army where he waged war against our country.”
Josephine Erickson’s essay is below:Josephine-Erickson-Change-Our-Name-Essay
“Change Our Name plans to continue this essay contest each year until the name of the high school and our city have been changed,” a press release from the nonprofit says.
Learn more about the nonprofit Change Our Name here: www.changeournamefortbragg.com
Other local scholarships
The Native Daughters of the Golden West awarded two scholarships at the awards ceremony at the high school recently, and the Hospital Auxiliary gave four scholarships. A total of 50 students received scholarships from organizations in our community, said Susan Collins, who is involved in community-wide scholarship efforts. She is also the one to contact about the Paul Bunyan Association at 707 357 1766 or [email protected].
Federal and state records show “Change Our Name” as a 501C3 nonprofit with Philip Zwerling as principal officer.