For those who fought, in some cases for years, to have Baltimore’s four monuments to the Confederacy removed from the city, last week’s victory is perhaps incomplete. Another monument to White supremacy, in the minds of many, continues to nevertheless exist in the form of a floating museum currently in the waters of Baltimore’s Inner Harbor.
Statues to Roger B. Taney, the Supreme Court Justice who crafted the Dred Scott Decision in 1857, which at that time affirmed the White supremacist mantra that Black people were inherently subhuman, were removed last week from Baltimore and Annapolis. However, the United States Coast Guard Cutter (USCGC), Roger B. Taney has been quietly floating in the Inner Harbor, nestled in the channel between the Power Plant and the Columbus Center for years.
The USCGC Taney is owned by the City of Baltimore and its operation is facilitated by the Living Classrooms Foundation, which provides education and job training utilizing, “urban, natural, and maritime resources as “living classrooms,” according to the group’s website. The AFRO reached out to Living Classrooms for comment on the Taney controversy, but did not get a response to our inquiry before press time.
The USCGC Taney was built in the mid 1930’s and officially commissioned Oct. 24, 1936. The Taney, “saw extensive service in war and peace for half a century,” according to the Historic Ships in Baltimore website. Historic Ships in Baltimore operates as steward (overseen by Living Classrooms) of several of the city’s historic vessels, including the Taney, and operates them as floating museums.
The Taney was decommissioned at Portsmouth Virginia, December 7, 1986, 45 years after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor during World War II, where the Taney engaged Japanese planes flying over Honolulu, according to the Historic Ships website. The ship was later donated to Baltimore, where it currently floats serving as a memorial and museum.
On August 22, AFRO reporter Jasmine Wright spoke to people planning to tour the Taney. In wake of the violent and deadly events in Charlottesville, which led to the removal of the Confederate and Taney monuments, their insights were varied.
“I think renaming the ship is erasing history,” said Linda, 50 of Park Heights. “This is different than taking down Confederate monuments, which were erected after the Civil War.”
“I don’t agree with what he did, but I don’t agree with what a lot of people did,” said Wendy B., 39 of Mt. Washington. “If you rename this ship, then you have to rename everything.”
Taney is infamous for his ruling on Dred v. Sanford, which denied Dred Scott, a slave, his freedom. Scott had sued the United States based on the fact he had moved to a free territory (Illinois) with his owner. Taney in his opinion wrote in part:
“They had for more than a century before been regarded as beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the White race, either in social or political relations; and so far inferior, that they had no rights which the White man was bound to respect; and that the Negro might justly and lawfully be reduced to slavery for his benefit.”
Taney’s opinion is characterized by many historians as the most virulently racist in the history of the Supreme Court. The United States government honored his legacy when it commissioned the USCGC Taney.
“I think the name should be changed,” Tarrah, 28 of Canton said. Baltimore City Councilman Brandon Scott (D-2nd Dist.), who introduced a resolution in the Council to take down the Confederate monuments last week, agrees.
“We should change the name of it. Name it after Frederick Douglass, wouldn’t that be something?” Scott said.
One prospective visitor to the USCGC Taney had a change of heart once he was informed of its namesakes history.
“Knowing that this ship is named after a racist, I’m not going to visit,” said Ivan, 27, of Woodlawn.
AFRO reporter Jasmine Wright contributed to this article.