SAN DIEGO — The U.S. Navy christened the USNS John Lewis in San Diego Saturday — honoring the late congressman and civil rights icon one year after his death.
The ceremony started at 9 a.m. and was attended by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and a delegation of other members of congress, including a delegation of San Diego legislators. Mayor Todd Gloria and top military brass were also on hand for the christening, which took place at General Dynamics NASSCO on East Harbor Drive, where the ship was constructed.
“Personally, it is my honor to honor our dear friend,” said Speaker Nancy Pelosi. “John’s great courage made him revered, revered in the congress the halls of the cabin he was fearless in the pursuit of a more perfect union.”
Alfre Woodard, the ship’s sponsor, christened the USNS John Lewis with champagne.
“May God bless this ship and all who sail in her,” she said.
Before the christening, the actress and political activist said of Lewis: “We miss him on this platform but we will never be without him. I am honored. I am fortunate. I am eternally grateful to have lived in the time of John Lewis.”
The John Lewis is the first replenishment oiler ship — logistics vessels that keep others in their fleet replenished with fuel, lubricants, fresh water and other supplies — in its class.
“It really is community building in a whole different way,” Woodard said.
The rest of the six ships in its class will also be named for civil rights leaders. They will each be built by NASSCO, which secured a $3.2 billion contract to construct the vessels.
The John Lewis is 746 feet long and will have a complement of about 100 civilian mariners.
The christening comes not only on the anniversary of his death but also as voting rights are heavily debating around the country.
Many are calling for the passage of the John Lewis Voting Rights Act in his honor as voting rights were a pillar of Lewis’ legacy.
“What would please my uncle most is the passage of the John Lewis Voting Rights Bill,” Lewis’ nephew said.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said the bill needs some changes after the Supreme Court recently upheld Arizona’s voting restrictions. She hopes the bill will make it to the floor soon.
“That is essential, that is about our democracy, we must pass that and we will not rest until we do,” Pelosi said.
The NAACP San Diego Branch President said it speaks volumes to the civil rights movement to have the ship named in honor of the late John Lewis.
“It gives you charge to get re-excited, re-engaged,” NAACP President Francine Maxwell said.
As a young man, Lewis was on the forefront of the civil rights movement of the 1960s. His beating by a state trooper while helping lead a march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., in March of 1965 was credited with helping to spur passage of the landmark Voting Rights Act by Congress just days later.
Lewis was first elected to the House of Representatives in 1986, representing a district that included much of Atlanta. He held the seat until his death on July 17, 2020.
Lewis had announced at the end of 2019 that he had Stage 4 pancreatic cancer. He lived long enough to see a new and powerful civil rights movement spring up around the country in the aftermath of the Memorial Day 2020 death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
“It was very moving, very moving to see hundreds of thousands of people from all over America and around the world take to the streets — to speak up, to speak out, to get into what I call `good trouble,”‘ Lewis said on “CBS This Morning.”
He added that the Black Lives Matter movement “feels and looks so different” from the 1960s protest movement. “It is so much more massive and all-inclusive. There will be no turning back.”
Lewis received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, from President Barack Obama in 2011.