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Navy renames warship after Black sailor and statesman

: Robert Smalls (1839-1915). American naval officer and politician. An African-American born into enslavement, he was forced to serve in the Confederate Navy during the Civil War. He took command of a ship and delivered it to Union forces, became a pilot in the U.S. Navy, advanced to captain 1863-1866, the highest ranking African-American officer in the Union Army. Member, South Carolina State House of Representatives. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

(CNN) — The Navy has renamed a warship in honor of a Black sailor and statesman who had been born into slavery, as part of the US military’s ongoing effort to remove names that commemorate the Confederacy.

The guided missile destroyer USS Chancellorsville, which was named after a Confederate victory in the Civil War, was renamed the USS Robert Smalls, the Navy announced Monday in a news release.

Born in South Carolina in 1839, Smalls was conscripted into the Confederate military during the Civil War, serving on the steamer Planter at Charleston. On May 13, 1862, Smalls piloted the ship out of the Charleston harbor with his family, other slaves, and military cargo, turning the ship over to the US Navy. He ultimately rose to become captain of the Planter.

As an advocate for African Americans, Smalls led one of the first public boycotts of segregated transportation. After the Civil War, Smalls was appointed a brigadier general of the South Carolina militia and served in the South Carolina Legislature. He went on to serve five terms as a member of the US House of Representatives.

“Robert Smalls is a man who deserves a namesake ship and with this renaming, his story will continue to be retold and highlighted,” Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro said in a statement. “The renaming of these assets is not about rewriting history, but to remove the focus on the parts of our history that doesn’t align with the tenets of this country, and instead allows us to highlight the events and people in history who may have been overlooked.”

The USS Robert Smalls is currently deployed to Yokosuka, Japan, and is assigned to Carrier Strike Group 5.

The decision to rename the ship comes after the Naming Commission, which Congress mandated as part of the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act, examined the names of more than 750 bases, facilities, buildings, and more to see if they commemorated the Confederacy.

In addition to recommending the military change the names of nine bases, including major facilities like Fort Bragg and Fort Hood, the commission also recommended the Navy change the names of two ships: the USS Chancellorsville and the USNS Maury. The latter is named after Commander Matthew Fontaine Maury, who resigned his commission in the US Navy to serve with the Confederacy.

The Navy said that steps to rename the ship will proceed with “minimal impact” on operations and crew.