The new ship, also designated LCS 6, was commissioned in Mississippi on Saturday and honors Jackson, Mississippi, which the Navy noted in a news release is named for former President Andrew Jackson. The ship is the Navy's third to bear the seventh president's name.
The designation comes amid a nationwide review of Jackson's legacy; activists who have fought having his name celebrated were dismayed to learn of the name the Navy had chosen.
"This is totally appalling," said Connecticut NAACP President Scot X. Esdaile, who described Jackson as "a big-time slavemaster, pro slavery, the whole nine yards."
Esdaile continued, "Amazing how we have an African-American president and the U.S. Navy slipped this thing through. I think it should be reconsidered."
Esdaile's sentiments were echoed by Chuck Hoskin Jr., secretary of state for the Cherokee Nation. Jackson put in place the Indian Removal Act in 1830, which forcibly removed Native Americans from their lands in the South and led to the harrowing migration known as the Trail of Tears.
"For our government to hold Andrew Jackson up to some reverence today, given our nation's better appreciation of American history today than generations ago, is very troubling," he said. "For the Cherokee people, Andrew Jackson represents the period of Indian removal," a legacy of "trauma" and the "brutal act" of evicting people from their lands.
The office of the secretary of the Navy did not respond to a request for comment.
Ahead of Saturday's ceremony, however, Secretary Ray Mabus remarked on the ship's new name and ties.
"As we welcome USS Jackson to the fleet, we are reminded of the importance of the partnership between our Navy and our nation's shipbuilding industry," Mabus said. "We also celebrate the lasting bond this ship will share with the great people of Jackson, Mississippi, as it sails the globe, providing a presence that only our Navy and Marine Corps can maintain."
Mabus himself is responsible for naming ships. At commissioning remarks, he frequently remarks that he has the "coolest job in the world" because he has the responsibility of naming ships.
According to the Navy
, the procedure dates back to a bill passed in 1819, and the Secretary of the Navy has been in charge of naming ships since. The secretary also receives nominations and suggestions from the Chief of Naval Operations and Naval Historical Center, which takes contributions from service members, veterans and the public.
Esdaile began raising concerns about Jackson's name when South Carolina removed the Confederate battle flag from the state Capitol grounds in June, which he said sparked a national conversation about the ways the nation's history of slavery is enshrined in tradition.
He asked the state's Democratic Party to remove Jackson and former President Thomas Jefferson's name from their eponymous annual dinner since they both held slaves.
"A lot of people were destroyed under (Jackson's) watch, and a lot of those actions should not be forgiven," Esdaile said, adding that even though it was legal to own slaves during his presidency, there were abolitionists advocating for freedom as well.
"We should be naming ships after those individuals," he concluded.
Hoskin said Saturday's ship commissioning "feels like a step backward," and suggested that had the government consulted with Cherokees about the appropriateness of the name, "I think we would have perhaps steered the government to name that ship differently."
He said, "We're going to look at this as an opportunity for the federal government to step up in the future."