What was previously Calhoun County’s Pelham Range Army Reserve Training Center is now called the Clarke Range Complex after military officials renamed the facility last week.

The new name honors Mary Elizabeth “Betty” Clarke, the former Women’s Army Corps (WAC) Center and School commander in Fort McClellan, now a decommissioned U.S. Army post divided among several entities.

Clarke enlisted in 1945 and rose to her position in the WAC in 1972. During her service, Clarke also oversaw the movement of the U.S. Chemical School to Fort McClellan and became the commander of the U.S. Army Military Police and Chemical Schools. She continued her service after the WAC dissolved in 1979 and retired in 1981 as a major general. 

The facility’s previous namesake, John Pelham, was a Confederate cavalry soldier. He received the nickname “The Gallant Pelham” from C.S.A. Gen. Robert E. Lee for holding up the Union flank at the Battle of Fredericksburg. He died at the Battle of Kelly’s Ford in 1863 when a Union artillery shell fragment struck him in the head.

Pelham is a native of Calhoun County. The city of Pelham in Shelby County also carries his name. The Anniston City Council voted to remove a statue of Pelham in Anniston in 2020.

According to the Anniston Star, Alabama National Guard (AGN) Adjutant General Maj. Gen. Sheryl Gordon called the renaming a “new chapter” for the facility. As Adjutant General, Sheryl advises Gov. Kay Ivey on military affairs. She also commands the Alabama Army and Air National Guard. Ivey appointed Gordon to her position in 2017.

The range is on part of the former site of Fort McClellan and is operated by the AGN. 

Initially, the name change prompted some lawmakers to look into whether or not the state owned the range. If it did, the ranking could be subject to Alabama’s Memorial Preservation Act (MPA).

However, State Sen. Gerald Allen (R-Tuscaloosa) told 1819 News on Monday that he looked into the recent name change and found it did not violate the law because the state does not own the land.

Allen sits on the Committee on Alabama Monument Protection (CAMP), which the Alabama Legislature created in 2017 as part of the Alabama MPA, a law protecting monuments in place for more than 40 years on public property from being removed, renamed, relocated or altered. Localities can be fined $25,000 for disturbing protected monuments.

CAMP considers applications for waivers for the fine and adopts administrative rules for implementing the act. It consists of 11 members, four of whom are appointed by the governor. 

Allen said that since the state did not own the property, they could not bring it before CAMP.

1819 News reached out to the AGN to confirm. AGN director of public affairs Mack Muzio said the land encompassing the range is federally owned. He also said higher-ups in the military made the call to change the name, spurred on by Congress. 

A congressional commission established under the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act released a list of Confederate-related names at military installations nationwide, including over 60 editions in Alabama. According to reports, Pelham Range was on the list.

To connect with the author of this story or to comment, email will.blakely@1819news.com or find him on Twitter and Facebook.

Don’t miss out! Subscribe to our newsletter and get our top stories every weekday morning.