“The times they are a-changin” – Bob Dylan
The United States Coast Guard Cutter (USCGC) Taney survived the Japanese’s sneak attack on December 7, 1941, on Pearl Harbor – a day that President Franklin D. Roosevelt said, “would live in infamy.” But, that same vessel couldn’t resist the passionate forces of the “Cancel Culture” juggernaut.
Recently, without any public notice, the ship’s caretakers, I’m sure they were operating in good faith, removed the “Taney” name from the historic vessel because of its past ties to racism. It is currently docked at Pier 5, 701 E. Pratt Street, in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. In this matter, “past ties” equals 163 years.
The Cancel Culture refers to “the practice of withdrawing support from a public figure or a company after they have said or done something objectionable or offensive.” (dictionary.com.)
Backstory: The Taney saw action in a number of theaters of combat in WWII. This included the Battle of Okinawa, and as a fleet escort in both the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea. She saw service, too, in the Vietnam War and took part in “Operation Market Time.”
For over 50 years, since it was commissioned in Philadelphia in 1936, the Taney has faithfully served our Republic. Its call to duty also included patrolling the ocean seas and working “in drug interdiction and fisheries protection.” (Taney, wikipedia.org)
In 1986, the Taney was decommissioned. It has since served as a “museum ship” in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. She was designated a “National Historic Landmark,” in 1988.
Over the years, I have enjoyed visiting the vessel with out of town family members. I’ve also tried to make it a point to attend the annual ceremony honoring the Taney. It has been held on or around December 7th of each year. (See https://
It turned out that the vessel was named after a former U.S. Attorney General and Supreme Court Chief Jurist, Roger B. Taney. He hailed from St. Mary’s County, Maryland. His family were slave owners. Taney’s main claim to notoriety was the fact he wrote the majority opinion in the Dred Scott Case, in 1857.
That decision held that all people of African descent, free or enslaved, were not U.S. citizens and therefore had no right to sue in federal courts. Taney even added this disgusting zinger, “the Fifth Amendment protected slave owners rights because enslaved workers were their legal property.” (Dred Scott Case, history.com)
Taney’s decision outraged abolitionists and increased the already high level of animosity between the North and South over the issue of slavery. It wasn’t long after the disputed verdict that hostilities broke out between the parties. The horrific Civil War followed. It cost the lives of roughly 620,000 Americans. (battlefieds.org).
As a result of the Union prevailing in the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln issued his “Emancipation Proclamation” freeing the slaves. It was, however, the Union Army that added the “muscle” necessary to implement that decree, especially in the Deep South.
Today, the Taney is referred to by its hull i.d., “WHEC 37.” It is a fall from grace for the vessel and its proud crew members who have served on her over the years. Of course, its surviving crew members, (the few who are left are way up in age), weren’t consulted about the name removal.
(Meanwhile, on another front, a controversy erupted over the classic 1939 movie, “Gone With The Wind.” It was removed earlier this month from the streaming services of HBO Max because of its “benign portrayal of slavery.” Cooler heads, however, have prevailed. It has been returned to screening after adding a new introduction by a scholar addressing the film’s “depiction of the Antebellum South.” See, npr.org.)
Getting back to the Taney, I believe it is a victim of the ongoing movement to re-write history. That crusade sometimes borders on hysteria. It sort of reminds me, in some cases, of the 1950s, and that rabble-rouser Sen. Joseph McCarthy (R-WI), and all that nonsense about finding a “Red Under Every Bed.”
Taney’s caretaker, the “Living Classrooms Foundation,” missed a golden opportunity to utilize the moment to educate the public about the vessel’s proud and heroic history; and, Justice Taney’s now a 163-year-old role in the controversy. It all should have been kept within a proper context and not blow out of proportion. Isn’t that the prime objective of education?
I’m sure the keep-the-Taney-name supporters are wondering, too, about this point: Isn’t there a statute of limitations on removing a name on a vessel? It has been 84 years since the Taney was commissioned. Where have these critics of its naming been all these years?
Folks of goodwill should keep in mind, too, how the “Gone With The Wind” dispute was quickly resolved to the satisfaction of all. I urge restoring the “Taney” name to the vessel, with a full explanatory note which condemns strongly the evil of slavery and keeps the arguments of the controversy within a historical context.
On a related issue, enter the comedian and late-night ABC TV host – Jimmy Kimmel. He’s one of my faves, but his past has caught up with him, too. When Kimmel was young in showbiz, he appeared on “Comedy Central” in a skit – in blackface.
Other Hollywood and TV celebrities who made that same ignorant mistake of going down the blackface road are: Ted Danson, Billy Crystal and Robert Downey, Jr.
Kimmel, wisely, will be taking the rest of the summer off hoping the issue will cool off. The word is that ABC is waiting to see if advertisers will drop the show or not. Kimmel has made it clear that he’s sorry for his past boorish behavior.
I feel bad for Kimmel. He’s married with four kids. Also at risk with their careers, are all of the folks who work behind and in front of the camera to support Kimmel’s program. This includes his sidekick – Guillermo Rodriquez.
Hollywood’s history of doing blackface is long, racist and ugly. In one of the most racist films ever made, “The Birth of a Nation,” blackface played a central role. Blackface is no long viewed by Black America as just a joke.
I believe, however, giving Kimmel the boot is way out of proportion to his dumb choice to do blackface. He will be hosting the Emmy Awards on September 20th.
At press time, author J.K. Rowling of “Harry Potter” fame, signed an open letter, in “Harper’s Magazine,” along with 150 other signatories, condemning “cancel culture and public shaming.” She underscored how “the free exchange of information and ideas are the lifeblood of a liberal society and is daily becoming more constricted.”
Writers and authors, such as Salmon Rushdie and Malcolm Gladwell, along with the noted Lefty politico, Noam Chomsky, also signed the letter. (harpers.org.)
With respect to the evil of slavery, its global ubiquity should be acknowledged. Just about every racial group at one time or another has enslaved others and been enslaved themselves. This includes the role of Black Africans’raiding and selling other Blacks on the international market.
Mercifully, the Cancel Culture is under counter-attack. The outcome of this battle, however, is far from over.
Bill Hughes is an attorney, author, actor and photographer. His latest book is “Byline Baltimore.” It can be found at: https://www.amazon.com/William-Hughes/e/B00N7MGPXO/ref=dp_byline_cont_book_1