The U.S. Navy is naming a ship after Medgar Evers, the civil rights pioneer who was gunned down in the driveway of his Mississippi home more than 46 years ago.
Edgar’s widow, Myrlie Evers-Williams, wiped away tears Friday as Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, a former Mississippi governor, made the announcement at Jackson State University.
“I think of those who will serve on this ship and those who will see it in different parts of the world. And perhaps they, too, will come to know who Medgar Evers was and what he stood for,” Evers-Williams was quoted as saying at the ceremony.
Evers was Mississippi field secretary of the NAACP when he was assassinated outside his Jackson home on June 12, 1963, at age 37.
The decision to name a T-AKE 13 cargo/ammunition ship after Evers “honors the pioneering spirit of the late civil rights activist… who forever changed the face of race relations in the South,” the Navy said in a statement.
“At a time when our country was wrestling with finally ending segregation and racial injustice, Evers led civil rights efforts to secure the right to vote for all African-Americans and to integrate public facilities, schools and restaurants,” the statement said. “His death prompted President John F. Kennedy to ask Congress for a comprehensive civil rights bill.”
The national NAACP applauded the Navy’s action.
“Civil rights and race relations in this country were forever changed by Medgar Evers,” NAACP Chairman Julian Bond said in a statement. “His pioneering spirit, undying passion and profound personal sacrifice mirror that of our naval heroes.”
In 1994, three decades after Evers was killed, Byron De La Beckwith was convicted of killing Evers. All-white juries in 1964 had failed to reach verdicts against Beckwith, despite overwhelming evidence.
As part of Military Sealift Command’s Naval Fleet Auxiliary Force, Medgar Evers will be designated as a United States Naval Ship (USNS) and will be crewed by 124 civil service mariners and 11 Navy sailors, according to the Navy statement.
The ship is designed to operate independently for extended periods at sea, can carry a helicopter, is 689 feet in length, has an overall beam of 106 feet, has a navigational draft of 30 feet, displaces approximately 42,000 tons, and is capable of reaching a speed of 20 knots using a single-shaft, diesel-electric propulsion system, the Navy said.
Additional information about the T-AKE class of ship is available on line at http://www.msc.navy.mil/factsheet/t-ake.htm.