NASHVILLE — A U.S. House Republican effort to block the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers from renaming Georgia's Lake Lanier and Buford Dam — both of which are named for men who fought for the Confederacy during the Civil War — could be headed soon to the U.S. House floor.
The effort, led by U.S. Rep. Andrew Clyde, R-Georgia, was approved late last month by the House Appropriations Committee.
The spending bill was approved earlier in June by GOP members of House Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies Subcommittee, chaired by U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Ooltewah.
Fleischmann supported the bill both in his subcommittee and the full committee.
"This issue is very near and dear to me and my constituents in North Georgia's Ninth District as the Army Corps of Engineers initiated and then temporarily paused a baseless move to rename the Buford Dam and Lake Sidney Lanier," Clyde told fellow House Appropriations Committee members.
The Athens Republican said the multipurpose project for water supply and flood control has, over its 50-plus year existence, become "one of the most popular recreational destinations in the state of Georgia" as well as the "most popular Army Corps project in the entire United States" with more than 12 million visitors in 2022.
Clyde said the Army Corps exceeded congressional authorization by attempting to rename the project. The issue, he said, is the project is co-owned, co-controlled and managed by the state of Georgia. He said the Army Corps of Engineers wrote a letter saying the Renaming Commission would not seek to bring the assets into the renaming process.
But Clyde said while Lake Lanier and Buford Dam were to be excluded, he got a March 9 letter from the Army Corps saying the Corps would develop and submit a new name for Lake Lanier and Buford Dam for consideration by the Department of the Army. A day later, it was identified by the Corps to be renamed.
"Again, outside their authority," Clyde said.
Fleischmann spoke in favor of the legislation during the same Appropriations Committee meeting.
"I really respect the fact that you put it in such detailed, perfect perspective for what it really is," Fleischmann told Clyde. "I want to make absolutely certain that everybody listened to the characterization, what the gentleman said this was. I suspect everyone in this room has a Corps project in their district. As we all know they often become defining features of the communities built around them.
"Businesses, neighborhoods and often entire towns share the name of the project that may drive local economies," Fleischmann said. "I agree with my colleague that the Corps should not move forward with the renaming without considering the impacts to the local economy."
Countered U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Florida, said there's more to the effort to retain the names than economic impact.
"Let's be clear about what this is all about," she said. "It's about protecting the legacy of the Confederacy."
Lake Lanier is named for Sidney Lanier, a poet who also served in the Confederate Army. After the war, he became a professor of literature at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and was hailed by some as "poet of the Confederacy." He wrote an ode to Confederate Gen. Stonewall Jackson and "Song of the Chattahoochee," a poem about the river.
Buford Dam is named for the city of Buford, which was named for Algernon Sidney Buford, who served in the Virginia Militia during the Civil War. A Virginia businessman, politician and lawyer, Buford was president of the Richmond and Danville Railroad for 22 years, expanding the rail line into other states, including Georgia.
"The Confederacy represents a painful chapter in our history, a time when our nation was bitterly divided, when human beings were subjugated and oppressed and treated less than human because of the color of their skin," U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop, a Democrat from Southwest Georgia, said at the committee. "To commemorate these symbols and these individuals is to pay homage to that dark time in our history and is a slap in the face to those of us who still suffer from the lingering effects of those injustices."
Efforts to speak with Fleischmann on Thursday were unsuccessful. His spokesperson, Justin Doil, issued a statement to the Chattanooga Times Free Press.
"The chairman does not believe the federal government should use its power to cover up or rewrite American history or be in the business of renaming Army Corps projects," the statement said.
Asked how the provision might be received in the Democratic-led Senate, Doil said Fleischmann is "looking forward to working with the Senate to pass his energy and water bill and all appropriations bills."
Hamilton County Democratic Party Chair Rachel Campbell on Thursday in a phone interview disagreed with the action in the subcommittee her congressman chairs.
"I understand the point that they're making about places being affected," Campbell said. "But I will say that in the time where we're living in right now where we're trying to re-adjust socially ... how we treat people, and there's some people in our government and people in our country that are seeking to erase the proper and true reason why we fought the Civil War. And trying to erase even discussing racism and privilege in schools, I just think that's another one of these efforts.
"We can learn from history. We can learn about the Civil War and about what the Confederates did without honoring them for their service now by naming projects and bases after them."
The Gwinnett Daily Post reported that Clyde sent a video message to constituents.
"These re-namings would attempt to rewrite history and pose massive burdens and costs on our community and create unnecessary mass confusion," he said.
The U.S. Army after the George Floyd protests in 2020 went through a process to rename nine military posts whose names were tied to Confederate leaders. A Naming Commission estimated the effort would cost $21 million, but that has grown to $39 million, according to the Military Times.
As part of that effort, Fort Benning, Georgia, has been renamed Fort Moore, and Fort Bragg, North Carolina, has become Fort Liberty.
Sidney Clopton Lanier: Born in Macon, Georgia, in 1842, and a graduate of Oglethorpe College, Lanier was a musician, poet and author who volunteered in 1861 as a private in the Confederate Army during the Civil War, according to a biography of him on the Johns Hopkins University's libraries website. Later detailed to a blockade runner, Lanier was captured by Union forces in 1864. He was imprisoned and contracted tuberculosis from which he died years later at age 39. Following the war, he became a flutist at Johns Hopkins University and also a lecturer on English verse, Shakespeare and the novel. According to Alabama Public Radio, the United Daughters of the Confederacy worked in the 1920s to enhance Lanier's posthumous reputation and "succeeded in making him a symbol of the Lost Cause." Lanier's poetical works include "The Marshes of Glynn" and "The Song of the Chattahoochee."
O hero-life that lit us like the sun!
O hero-words that glittered like the stars
And stood and shone above the gloomy wars
When the hero-life was done!
— From "The Dying Words of Stonewall Jackson" by Sidney Lanier
Algernon Sidney Buford: A Virginia businessman, state legislator and attorney, Buford enlisted in the Confederate States Army in 1861 after the state's passage of secession and was briefly assigned to the Army of Northern Virginia, according to the Old West End National Historic District website. Pittsylvania County voters that fall elected him to the state House of Delegates where he served until the end of the war. While Buford was a member of the House, Gov. John Letcher commissioned him as a lieutenant colonel for support for soldiers in the field. Following the war, Buford became president of the Richmond and Danville Railroad for 22 years, expanding the line to some 3,300 miles of track in Virginia, Georgia, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas and Texas. It formed the basis for the Southern Railway System created in 1894. The City of Buford notes on its website that the town was named after Buford, who was also president of the Atlanta and Richmond Air-Line Railroad, and that Buford Dam was named after the town.