Wednesday, July 1, 2020
Baltimore, MD – In support of the local, national, and global call to remove symbols venerating oppression and racial injustice, Living Classrooms Foundation and Historic Ships in Baltimore have decided to remove the name of the former U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Taney (WHEC-37). After notification to the U.S. Coast Guard and in coordination with the City of Baltimore, this decision was approved by Living Classrooms Foundation’s Board of Trustees and their Historic Ships in Baltimore Advisory Board. Presently, the ship will be referred to by its hull identification, WHEC-37, which stands for High Endurance Cutter.
USCGC Taney (WHEC-37) is a national historic landmark and the last surviving warship from the attack on Pearl Harbor. At the request of the City, since 1994, Living Classrooms has been the steward of the former USCGC Taney. The organization has operated the ship as a museum for the general public, a “living classroom” for thousands of students, and as a memorial to the men and women who served aboard her and in our armed forces. Living Classrooms’ education programs have focused on the important role the ship and her crew has played in serving the United States. Each year, on December 7th, people from around the country gather on board the ship for a Pearl Harbor Remembrance so that we do not forget that infamous day in 1941.
Living Classrooms recently completed a capital campaign raising $420,000 to dry dock the ship for critical repairs and preservation. The work will take place at the U.S. Coast Guard Yard in Curtis Bay in fall 2020.
The former USCGC Taney (WHEC-37) was named after Roger B. Taney because of his position as Secretary of the U.S. Treasury, which occurred prior to his selection as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. She is one of seven sister ships that were named after U.S. Treasury Secretaries. However, Roger B. Taney is best known and reviled as the Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court who delivered the majority opinion in the Dred Scott v. Sandford case. Taney, speaking for seven members of the Court, declared that all African Americans – slave or free – were not U.S. citizens at the time of the country’s Founding and could not become citizens. He asserted that the Founders thought that blacks were an inferior class of humans and had “no rights which the white man was bound to respect,” and no right to sue in federal court. This was a gross act of injustice toward African Americans. Taney could have stopped there, but he believed this decision could end the sectional conflict over the expansion of slavery. He declared that the Missouri Compromise was unconstitutional, that Congress had no power to regulate slavery in the territories, and that slavery could become legal throughout the nation. Finally, Taney pronounced that Dred Scott, despite the years he spent in the free state and territory that allowed other slaves to claim their freedom, was still a slave.
James Piper Bond, President and CEO of Living Classrooms Foundation, states “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.”
“We are not erasing history,” states 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.”
Upon determining the next steps, Living Classrooms will continue its strong tradition of education with the development of programming and a curriculum explaining the history of the Dred Scott decision, how this decision perpetuated and enhanced the legal foundation of structural racism, and contributed directly to events leading to the Civil War. Most importantly, the Foundation 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. Existing artifacts will be weaved into the education program.
Historic Ships in Baltimore presently has education programs that include African-American Maritime History. “Black Sailors in Navy Blue” discusses the experience of African Americans enlisted in the Civil War Navy and also highlights the USS Constellation’s role as flagship of the U.S. African Squadron prior to the Civil War, and the liberation of nearly 4,000 Africans from slavery in the New World. Living Classrooms also celebrates the lives of Frederick Douglass and Isaac Myers and the fifteen founders of the country’s first black-owned shipyard at the Frederick Douglass-Isaac Myers Maritime Park, also located on Baltimore’s Inner Harbor.
About the Historic Ships in Baltimore
Located in and around Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, the Historic Ships in Baltimore is a subsidiary of the nonprofit organization, Living Classrooms Foundation. The organization preserves a collection of national treasures including the WHEC-37, USS Torsk, Lightship Chesapeake, the USS Constellation, and the Seven Foot Knoll Lighthouse. All of these assets serve as “living classrooms” for students and the general public. More at www.historicships.org.
Historic Ships’ five vessels are temporarily closed to visitors due to ongoing concerns about the spread of COVID-19 and associated guidance restricting interactions in close quarters. Staff is actively creating virtual content that can bring the experience to the public from the comfort and safety of their homes.
About Living Classrooms
Living Classrooms Foundation is a Baltimore-Washington, DC-based nonprofit that disrupts the cycle of poverty and helps the communities we serve become safer, stronger, and healthier by meeting individuals where they are and building skills for life. We inspire children, youth, and adults to achieve their potential through hands-on education, workforce development, health and wellness, and violence prevention programming, using urban, natural, and maritime resources as “living classrooms.” Living Classrooms Foundation has been serving the community since 1985. More at: www.livingclassrooms.org.