In an honor bestowed on only a handful of individuals, the United States Navy selected NAACP civil and voting rights icon Medgar Evers as the namesake of its newest ship. Christened in San Diego by his widow Myrlie Evers-Williams, the USNS Medgar Evers (T-AKE 13) will serve as a supply ship for the Navy starting in the first quarter of 2012.
"I am just so honored for Medgar and all of the other people who gave their lives in the Civil Rights Movement, particularly those in Mississippi. In my humble estimation, very few of them have received rightful acknowledgment of their contributions," remarked Evers-Williams, during the christening ceremony on Nov. 12, with more than 1,000 persons in attendance. "He was a man who did believe in this country, and he believed in his people. He wanted things to be just and fair, and he was willing to work for that." Evers-Williams served as the ship's sponsor.
Medgar Wiley Evers, an Army veteran, was born and raised in Mississippi, where, after completing his military service in 1946, he returned to earn his degree from Alcorn Agricultural and Mechanical College (now Alcorn State University). After graduation, Evers began working on behalf of the NAACP in the fight to end segregation. In 1954, Evers became the first NAACP state field secretary in Mississippi.
As field secretary, Evers organized boycotts and demonstrations to bring attention to the pervasive discrimination and urged an end to racial injustice. He also led the investigation into the murder of Emmitt Till, who, at the age of 14, was killed for talking to a White woman.
Evers may be best remembered for his fight to secure voting rights for all Americans. He helped lead the charge for voting rights in Mississippi, organizing voter registration efforts across the state.
After returning from an NAACP meeting on June 12, 1963, Medgar Evers was assassinated outside his home by a member of the White Citizens' Council. Just two months before his murder, Evers anticipated that his work for civil rights would bring about his demise. "I expect to be shot any time I step out of my car... if I die, it will be in a good cause."
Evers' murder served as one of the catalysts for President John F. Kennedy to request that Congress create a national civil rights bill.
"This is a truly special occasion," said NAACP president and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous. "Medgar Evers has been an inspiration to so many in the civil rights community and across the country. This honor by our Navy is befitting of his legacy."
"The Navy has bestowed a great honor upon an American hero who exhibited courage and commitment 'not for self but for country' and community in the face of unparalleled danger in the struggle for equality, justice and freedom," Vice Chairwoman of the NAACP Board of Directors Roslyn M. Brock said in a statement.
"He was committed to his fellow human beings and the dream of making America a nation for all its citizens," said Navy Secretary and former governor Ray Mabus during the dedication event.
USNS Medgar Evers is the 13th ship of the Lewis and Clark (T-AKE) Class of dry cargo ships NASSCO is building for the U.S. Navy. It began constructing USNS Medgar Evers in April 2010.
The ship is 689 feet long.
"Each ship in the T-AKE Class is named for a noted pioneer in our nation's history," said Fred Harris, president of the ship builder. "Mr. Evers was Army veteran of World War II and an important civil rights pioneer. The NASSCO team is proud to add Medgar Evers' name to this distinguished list."