It’s a piece of wartime history and a landmark on Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. The former U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Taney will no longer be known by that name.
USCGC Taney (WHEC-37) is a national historic landmark and the last surviving warship from the attack on Pearl Harbor. It was one of seven sister ships named for U.S. Treasury Secretaries. But after Roger B. Taney served as Treasury Secretary, he became known as the U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice who delivered the Dred Scott v. Sanford decision and declared that African Americans were not citizens and had no rights.
Living Classrooms Foundation and Historic Ships in Baltimore announced Wednesday that “in support of the local, national, and global call to remove symbols venerating oppression and racial injustice,” the organizations have decided to remove the ship’s name. For the moment, it will be referred to by its hull identification number, WHEC-37, which stands for High Endurance Cutter.
Living Classrooms has operated the USCG Cutter since 1994 as a museum for the general public (though it remains closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic), a “living classroom” for students, and a memorial to U.S. members of the armed forces. It is docked at Baltimore’s Pier 5, close to the National Aquarium and Power Plant. The cutter’s education programs focus on Pearl Harbor and every December 7, people from around the nation gather on board for a Pearl Harbor remembrance. Living Classrooms’ leader says that important historical recognition will continue:
“We are not erasing history,” says President and CEO James Piper Bond. “Nor is it our intention to minimize the service and sacrifice of the men and women who have served with honor aboard the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Taney. Our intention is to learn from history and celebrate the legacy of the ship and those who served aboard.”
But, Bond says, the historic cutter’s name shouldn’t reflect the “gross act of injustice toward African Americans” that Taney made.
“We have been inspired that now is the time to make this change. Taney’s ruling was an abomination and a great injustice towards African Americans. The national historic landmark we are charged with stewarding should be reflective of our values of equality and opportunity for all,” Bond says.
The former Taney is set for critical repairs and preservation at the U.S. Coast Guard Yard in Curtis Bay this fall, after Living Classrooms raised $420,000 in a capital campaign.
In the meantime, Living Classrooms says it will work to develop a curriculum explaining the history of the Dred Scott decision and how it perpetuated structural racism, contributing directly to the Civil War coming about.
Most importantly, the Foundation says, it will “educate students of all ages about why it was important to remove the name “Taney” from this historic vessel so that the sacrifice of those who served aboard this ship is not tainted by the dark legacy of Roger B. Taney.”
-Meg Walburn Viviano