Dealing with Confederate imagery on vessels

The national movement to rename or drop symbols of the Confederacy has reached the waterfront.

In the aftermath of mass protests against police brutality and racial injustice, a movement has also emerged to topple monuments and rename places that honored Confederate leaders of the Civil War who fought to retain slavery and white supremacy.

The names of streets and schools are being renamed or reconsidered in many states. The military may soon retire the names of several of its Southern bases that honor Confederate generals, such as Fort Bragg and Fort Lee. Last month the Marine Corps banned Confederate flags at its installations, while the Navy followed by drafting an order to “prohibit Confederate battle flags from all public spaces and work areas on Navy installations, ships, aircraft and submarines.”

President Trump opposes renaming military bases and believes that such moves, as well as the forceable removal of statues of Confederate leaders, are part of a “left-wing cultural revolution” aimed at tearing down symbols of U.S. heritage. He has said that displaying the Confederate flag was a matter of free speech.

So far, the U.S. Coast Guard has deferred a decision on removing Confederate flag symbols or names despite pressure from Congress and from within its own ranks. Over the past two few weeks, House Homeland Security Chairman Bernie Thompson, D-Miss., and Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., who is a potential running mate to Joe Biden and a former Army lieutenant colonel, have written letters urging Commandant Adm. Karl Schultz to ban Confederate flag imagery.

Thompson, who is African-American, asked the Coast Guard to remove Confederate flag displays “at all Coast Guard installations, cutters, boats, aircraft and government-opened housing,” and to “ensure discipline for military members or civilian employees who disobey such a ban.” He said he was “perplexed at the Coast Guard’s hesitation” to follow the lead of the Marine Corps and Navy in banning what he calls a symbol “of slavery, segregation and racial discrimination that continues to haunt this country and greatly offends many African-Americans who still face racism and bigotry to this day.”

He told Schultz that “a Service truly committed to recruiting and retaining African-Americans and fostering a culture of justice and equity simply cannot continue to allow the display of such a symbol. That is why I urge you to immediately prohibit the public display of this flag within the Coast Guard.”

Duckworth, who lost both legs when the helicopter she was piloting was shot down during the Iraq war, argued that the U.S. should not honor those who fought against the U.S. armed forces “and sought to destroy the United States” as the confederate generals did during the Civil War. She urged the Coast Guard to demonstrate “moral leadership in swiftly moving to prohibit the public display of the Confederate battle flag, rather than waiting on Congress to force such action.”

The Coast Guard’s Affinity Group Council, which advises on diversity and inclusion within the Service, also recommended last year that the Coast Guard ban such imagery as well as get tougher against bullying and harassment of minority members, including those at the Coast Guard Academy.

Adm. Schultz has said that the Coast Guard changed its policy in 2019 to give commanders discretion to take action against imagery found to be offensive. In several public appearances, the commandant expressed concern that a ban could run afoul of First Amendment rights of free speech. He also pointed to progress at making the Coast Guard a more diverse and inclusive service and ongoing efforts to continue reforms.

Meanwhile, administrators of the Coast Guard cutter Taney, which was the last surviving warship of the attack on Pearl Harbor and is now a floating museum in Baltimore, announced that the ship’s name will be changed. It will no longer carry the name of Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, who wrote the Supreme Court decision in 1857 that declared that African-Americans, whether free or enslaved, were not entitled to rights as U.S. citizens.

The ship will now be known by its hull identification, WHEC-37, which stands for high endurance cutter.

“We are not erasing history, nor is it our intention to minimize the service and sacrifice of the men and women who have served with honor aboard the Taney. Our intention is to learn from history and celebrate the legacy of the ship and those who served aboard,” James Piper Bond, president and CEO of Living Classrooms Foundation, which runs the ship, said in a statement. He said items bearing Taney’s name will become part of an educational program explaining why the former Supreme Court justice and Treasury Secretary’s name was removed.

In Maryland, the operator of an historic cable ferry service that carries cars, bikes and pedestrians across the Potomac River between Poolesville, Md., and Leesburg, Va., has changed the name of its vessel from Jubal A. Early, who was a Confederate general and white supremacist, to Historic White’s Ferry. Ferry owner Richard Brown, 42, told the Washington Post that “we just want to move on. Put it behind us.”

About the author

Pamela Glass

Pamela Glass is the Washington, D.C., correspondent for WorkBoat. She reports on the decisions and deliberations of congressional committees and federal agencies that affect the maritime industry, including the Coast Guard, U.S. Maritime Administration and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Prior to coming to WorkBoat, she covered coastal, oceans and maritime industry news for 15 years for newspapers in coastal areas of Massachusetts and Michigan for Ottaway News Service, a division of the Dow Jones Company. She began her newspaper career at the New Bedford (Mass.) Standard-Times. A native of Massachusetts, she is a 1978 graduate of Wesleyan University (Conn.). She currently resides in Potomac, Md.

1 Comment

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    Pamela,

    You should got to “Friends of USCGC TANEY (WPG/WHEC 37)” facebook page and see how all of the old crewmembers of the Taney feel about the name being removed. Rodger B. Taney was a Secretary of the Treasury and that is who the ship was named for. The whole class of 327 footers were named for Secretarys of the Treasury. Taney was a Supreme court justice later in life when he read the decision that was the result of a majority vote by the Supreme Court Justices.

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