Should a Florida bridge be renamed after the first African-American 4-star General?

Matt Saintsing
February 19, 2019 - 3:04 pm

Courtesy Seagull Publication

Naming a bridge after the first African-American four-star General sounds like a slam dunk, but an effort to do just that may prove to be more difficult than thought. 

The span in Pensacola, Florida is officially named after Phillip D. Beall, Sr., a state senator who, as a teenager, actively worked to disenfranchise African American voters across the state. His living descendants say the effort to strip Beall’s name off the bridge is political, although they do not mind it sharing its namesake with Air Force Gen. Daniel “Chappie” James. 

“My family, and their name in its town, it’s everything to me,” Kirke Beall, his grandson, told WEAR-TV. “It is an existing memorial, and to legislatively erase it to put somebody else, it’s very political right now.” 

U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Eben Boothby

A Pensacola native, James became one of the famed Tuskegee Airmen as a flight instructor during World War II. After flying scores of combat missions in the skies over Korea and Vietnam, and eventually earning a fourth star, James is said to have been a trailblazer for other black senior military officers. 

James’ son, Claude, told the TV station that “there was always this feeling that Dad’s rise was going to account to something in this town in such a way that people would be glad and proud that he was from here, and that has finally happened.” 

It’s no doubt that emotions run high, especially when the family is involved but calling it erasure may be a bridge too far. When John McCain died in August from brain cancer Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) pushed to rename the Russell Senate Office building after the former naval aviator and Vietnam POW. 

No one said at the time that Schumer was trying to stain the name of former Sen. Richard B. Russell, a Georgia Democrat who led the legislative effort of Southern whites to stop Rev. Martin Luther King Jr’s. crusade for desegregation as well as civil and voting rights. 

But renaming the bridge isn’t already in the bag.  The bridge spans two counties: the Escambia County Commission is set to vote on forming a committee to research the issue, while the Santa Rosa County Commission unanimously approved a resolution backing the renaming. 

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