A congressional chairman called upon U.S. Coast Guard Commandant Karl Schultz to ban Confederate flag imagery as stewards have stripped the name of a historic cutter that was named after a chief justice who declared that African-Americans did not have any citizenship rights.
The letter from House Homeland Security Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) comes amid a push in Congress to rename military installations currently named after Confederate figures, such as Fort Lee and Fort Bragg. The National Defense Authorization Act, which is currently being debated in the Senate, would create a renaming commission and require the Defense Department to remove any Confederate names and imagery from ships and aircraft or DoD properties; President Trump has threatened to veto the entire defense bill because of the Confederacy provision.
Last month, the Marine Corps banned Confederate flags on its installations as a symbol that “has all too often been co-opted by violent extremist and racist groups whose divisive beliefs have no place in our Corps” and “presents a threat to our core values, unit cohesion, security, and good order and discipline.” Days later, the Navy announced that Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday “directed his staff to begin crafting an order that would prohibit the Confederate battle flag from all public spaces and work areas aboard Navy installations, ships, aircraft and submarines.”
The Coast Guard’s Affinity Group Council recommended to Schultz last year that USCG should prohibit display of the Confederate flag. Schultz said at a March Coast Guard Academy forum that while USCG does not have a ban on Confederate imagery, commanders have discretion to take action “if it’s revealed and it’s offensive to somebody.”
“Every situation on a Coast Guard facility that involves a Confederate flag, or any hate symbol, will be investigated. It will be immediately removed,” he said, adding when questioned on the policy, “It’s clearly seen by many as a hate symbol. What we have to figure out is where do you want to position the Coast Guard on what could be a very interesting conversation and battle of First Amendment right to constitutionality.”
In his Thursday letter to Schultz, Thompson asked for a ban on Confederate flag displays “at all Coast Guard installations, cutters, boats, aircraft, and government-owned housing” and to “ensure discipline for military members or civilian employees who disobey such a ban.”
The chairman said he was “perplexed at the Coast Guard’s hesitation” to follow the Marine Corps and Navy bans. “I have long been a staunch opponent of public displays of the Confederate battle flag,” Thompson wrote. “As a Mississippian and an African American, the flag symbolizes a history 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.”
“The Confederate battle flag is a symbol of hate, bigotry, and division—plain and simple,” he continued. “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.”
The administrators of the cutter USCGC Taney announced this week that the ship, which was moored in Honolulu Harbor during the Pearl Harbor attack and now serves as a floating museum in Baltimore, would no longer be named after Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, who penned the majority opinion in 1857’s Dred Scott v. Sandford. Taney wrote that African-Americans, whether free or enslaved, were not entitled to the rights of U.S. citizens under the Constitution and argued that blacks were regarded by the Founders “as beings of an inferior order, altogether unfit to associate with the white race … and so far inferior, that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.” Taney also declared that Dred Scott was still a slave despite years of residency in a free state, and argued that slavery could become legal nationwide with no power of Congress to regulate it in the territories.
Living Classrooms Foundation and Historic Ships in Baltimore said in a statement Wednesday that they had notified the Coast Guard and the ship will now be known by its hull identification, WHEC-37.
“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,” said James Piper Bond, president and CEO of Living Classrooms Foundation. “The national historic landmark we are charged with stewarding should be reflective of our values of equality and opportunity for all.”
“We are not erasing history,” he added. “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.”
The foundation said that existing artifacts bearing the Taney name would be woven into an educational program explaining why Taney’s name was removed from the cutter.