(CN) — The Fort Bragg, California, City Council declined to put an initiative to change the city’s name on the ballot in November, and instead encouraged citizens to collect the necessary signatures to put a name change before voters.
A town of about 7,000 three hours north of San Francisco, Fort Bragg is named after Braxton Bragg, a slaveholding Confederate general who historians agree was one of the worst tactical officers in the American Civil War.
The city considered changing its name amid a national reckoning with a history of racial injustice and how the vestiges of that injustice continue to unfairly affect minority communities.
But the City Council said rushing to put the name change on the ballot in November, particularly as many in the community vehemently oppose such a change, would amount to a rush to judgment.
“We are not Fort Bragg because of some guy who died 150 years ago named this town after Braxton Bragg,” said Mayor Will Lee. “We are Fort Bragg because of the families who live here.”
Several speakers spoke in favor of changing the name to acknowledge and address the country’s history of racial injustice.
But most who spoke during the City Council meeting on Monday favored keeping the name of the town despite its connection to a blundering Confederate general. Several noted Bragg never stepped foot in the Northern California outpost situated on a picturesque slice of shore on the Pacific Ocean.
“I’m tired of looking at Bragg’s face, but at the same time, that’s not what Fort Bragg means to me,” said Scott Taleb.
Still, many residents said the name tarnishes the reputation of the tourist-oriented town.
“They say there is a nonexistent connection to the slaveholding general who betrayed his country, but that is but a threadbare excuse to avoid a genuine reckoning with our history,” said Elias Henderson.
Henderson and others in favor of putting the name change on the ballot further noted that the fort named in honor of Bragg also participated in displacing the Native Americans who had lived in the area for centuries.
Several members of the Pomo tribe expressed support for changing the name to something that honored their traditions.
“I don’t agree with the name,” said Javier Silva, a member of the tribe. “There was oppression here, but not because of Braxton Bragg.”
The town was named right after the Mexican-American War, which was fought about 12 years before the American Civil War. Horatio G. Gibson, who fought in the Mexican American War, led an expedition into Northern California in 1857 and eventually named a garrison he founded after his former commanding officer — Braxton Bragg.
Daveon Johnson, the only black person to speak during the meeting as of late Monday evening, said he was not in favor of changing the name. Johnson said doing so would only divide the community and not address the problems of racism.
“Forcing the city to change its name isn’t going to bridge the divide between us,” he said. “We should not engage in this battle that will pull us further apart.”
The city floated a potential compromise that involved rededicating the city after a different Bragg, including an officer in the Union Army that shared the last name.
“I think rededicating it would mean we wouldn’t have to change the name,” said David Gleason, another resident.
The city also talked about the difficulty of navigating through the Covid-19 pandemic and the accompanying fiscal difficulties, saying that now is not the right time to undertake a change that would entail significant expenditures.
“This community is fragile because of the pandemic shutdown,” Lee said.
While the greater Fort Bragg area has a population of about 53,000 people, only voters within city limits will be able to vote on this issue should it appear on a ballot. For now, the City Council agreed to appoint a citizen commission to take a closer look at the issue.