Descendant of Howell Cobb, a Confederate founder, hails his Capitol portrait coming down

Haley Talbot and Julie Tsirkin

WASHINGTON — The great-great-great-granddaughter of Howell Cobb, one of the Founders of the Confederacy, is on a mission to remove insignias of the Confederacy from the United States — starting with her own family’s part in the country's dark past.

Denise Rucker Krepp says progress was made when Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., on Thursday ordered the removal of the portraits of four Confederate Speakers, including Cobb.

“My grandfather led the Confederate Congress. His brother wrote the Articles of Secession. My family created the Confederacy,” Krepp told NBC News. “I want the Confederate flag banned from government property, I want bases named after cousins changed, and I wanted Cobb’s portrait removed. Achieved my first goal today.”

Krepp, a former service member in the Coast Guard, wrote Pelosi a letter on Wednesday urging the portrait of her grandfather be removed. “Allowing Cobb’s portrait to hang in the U.S. Capitol implies that Congress endorses my grandfather’s hatred and bigotry. Please don’t do that,” Krepp wrote.

The outrage over the killings of several Black Americans during encounters with police, including George Floyd, sparked a renewed debate over the removal of Confederate memorials — including those in the nation’s capital.

This dispute made it into the halls of Congress, where lawmakers have been under pressure to remove portraits and statues honoring members of the Confederacy. Currently, 11 statues remain in the Capitol, but individual states hold responsibility for replacing them, unless Congress acts to change that.

Though Speaker Pelosi called for the removal of the statues, Senate Rules Committee Chair Roy Blunt, R-Mo., said it would “violate the agreement with the states,” but added if the Speaker crafted legislation, he would be “glad to take it up.”

During the Senate markup of the National Defense Authorization Act earlier in the week, the Republican-led Armed Services Committee voted to include Senator Elizabeth Warren’s, D-Mass., amendment to strip military installations of their confederate names — including bases and other department facilities. But President Trump said his administration “would not even consider” doing such a thing.

Ten Army bases named after Confederate officers remain scattered throughout the Southern United States. Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy had expressed support for renaming the bases, and, as reported by NBC, White House officials are revisiting the idea.

Krepp said she sent a letter to Adm. Karl Schultz of the Coast Guard, requesting that he “ban the confederate flag from all Coastguard facilities” because it “endorses the racism and prejudice” her grandfather embodied.

Cobb, who was once the service secretary for the Revenue Cutter Service — an antecedent agency of the Coast Guard — was honored by the agency as recently as 2017, for being “interesting and infamous.”

For the moment, Pelosi took historic unilateral action to remove the portrait of Cobb, along with three others, a measure that does not require legislative input.

“This Juneteenth must be a day of reflection that moves our nation to finally confront and combat its long and shameful history of systemic racial injustice targeted at communities of color,” Pelosi said. “That is why, this week, I have ordered the removal of portraits of Confederate leaders from the U.S. Capitol.”

“[I’m] grateful that Pelosi finally removed his portrait. Next step is the Coast Guard. Cobb was their service secretary. Why haven’t they banned the Confederate flag?” Krepp said.

Krepp began researching her family ties to the Confederacy in 2015, writing and advocating to make amends for a history that still haunts modern-day America.

“I served as an Obama political appointee. And every time I walked into the office I smiled, knowing how much my grandfather would have hated my connection to an African American President. My way of making things right.”