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Keel laying ceremony is the first for three ships to honor civil rights leaders

Keel laying ceremony is the first for three ships to honor civil rights leaders.
Photo credit:
Nicole Murrary-Ramirez

In 2016, the then Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus officially announced that three naval vessels would be named after prominent U.S. civil rights leaders which include Congressman John Lewis, gay rights activist and politician Harvey Milk, and U.S. Senator Robert Kennedy.

Official construction of the first of those three ships, the USNS John Lewis, began on Monday with a ceremonial keel laying at the Nassco Building Shipyard in San Diego. 

In attendance for the event was the 79-year-old civil rights leader and ship's namesake himself, Congressman John Lewis.

A bit of Hollywood also made its way to America's Finest City. Award-winning actor and activist Alfre Woodward is the ship's sponsor and came down to commemorate this momentous occasion. 

Alongside her was City Commissioner Nicole Murray-Ramirez who, with the International Imperial Courts Council led the successful national letter-writing campaign to name a Navy ship after gay politician and LGBT activist Harvey Milk. That ship, a Military Sealift Command fleet oiler, will also be constructed in San Diego. 

Commissioner Ramirez, who also serves on the National Board of the Harvey Milk Foundation, has been speaking with Navy brass and Nassco President Kevin Graney concerning the upcoming ceremonies and christening for the USNS Harvey Milk.

Murray-Ramirez explains the shipbuilding process in a quote to San Diego Gay and Lesbian News

"There are three official ceremonies for a building of a ship," he explains. "One, the official first cutting of the steel ceremony. Two, the keel laying ceremony and three, the official christening of the ship."

Harvey Milk is known mostly for his activism in the San Francisco Bay area as a politician, but he also has a connection to San Diego. He was stationed here in the 1950s while serving in the Navy.

Murray-Ramirez says the first ceremony for the USNS Harvey Milk which is co-sponsored by Senator Dianne Feinstein is scheduled for September of this year.

This Friday will also mark the eleventh anniversary of the Harvey Milk Diversity Breakfast in San Diego which Commissioner Nicole Murray-Ramirez also founded.