Navy supply ship named for slain Civil Rights leader Medgar Evers

Secretary of the Navy (SECNAV) the Honorable Ray Mabus speaks with Myrlie Evers-Williams, wife of the late civil rights activist Medgar Evers and brother Charles Evers. Mabus officially announced the future Military Sealift Command dry cargo and ammunition ship Medgar Evers (T-AKE 13) at Jackson State University. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Kevin S. O'Brien)
Secretary of the Navy (SECNAV) the Honorable Ray Mabus (far left)looks on as Myrlie Evers-Williams, widow of Medgar Evers and ship’s sponsor, prepares to break the traditional bottle of champagne across the hull of the Military Sealift Command dry cargo and ammunition ship USNS Medgar Evers (T-AKE 13). They are joined by Evers-Williams' two children Van (third from left) and Reana. Charles Evers is standing behind Evers-Williams. (U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist Sam Shavers)

One of the greatest “honors” of 2011

SAN DIEGO, Ca. – The family of slain civil rights activist Medgar Evers said an old friend has ‘made good’ on a promise.

Many years ago, former Mississippi governor Ray Mabus said that he would do something that would significantly honor the memory of Medgar Evers, and on Saturday, Nov. 12, he did just that.

Mabus, who is now the United States Secretary of the Navy, delivered the principal address at a ceremony for the christening and launch of the USNS Medgar Evers.

Continuing the Lewis and Clark-class (T-AKE) tradition of honoring legendary pioneers and explorers, the Navy’s newest underway replenishment ship recognizes Medgar Evers who became active in the civil rights movement after he returned from overseas service in World War II.

Evers, who hails from Decatur, Miss., and was born in 1925, was gunned down in the driveway of his Jackson home on June 3, 1963.

Evers’ wife, Myrlie Evers-Williams, and his brother, Charles Evers, both attended the ceremony in San Diego.

“The naming of this ship for Medgar speaks to the integrity of the Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus by keeping his promise,” Myrlie Evers-Williams said. “And it speaks to perhaps a different time in America where such a thing can be done.” 

Her brother-in-law, Charles Evers, who set a historical milestone of his own by becoming the first black mayor in the state of Mississippi, said – for him – the recent honor bestowed upon his older brother is almost unimagineable.

“This was something that I never expected would happen for Medgar or for any other black citizen in this country,” Charles Evers said. “I’m honored beyond words that they would say ‘Thank you,’ to a man who gave it all – for us, in this way. And he did so much not for just black folks. Not just white folks. But for all Americans. And his name will be carried around the world wherever and whenever this ship is needed.”

The first Navy ship named after Evers is the T-AKE 13.

The naval ship will be crewed by civil service mariners and will include a small department of sailors. The ship is designed to operate independently for extended periods at sea and can carry two helicopters and their crews. The ship is 689 feet in length, has an overall beam of 106 feet and a navigational draft of 30 feet. Evers displaces approximately 42,000 tons and is capable of reaching a speed of 20 knots using a single-shaft, diesel-electric propulsion system.

Charles Evers said the supply ship will be used to transport materials, cargo and other items to wherever they are needed.

“Any kind of relief anywhere,” he said. “Food, ammunition, troops, whatever. Without a supply ship, our troops couldn’t survive. The navy, the army, the air force, none of those could survive because those ships carry supplies to those destinations.”

The USNS Medgar Evers will also be used during natural disasters.

“If there is a major storm or destruction, and it’s a matter of providing food and other services to people in an area that’s been practically demolished, this is where this ship will come in,” Myrlie Evers-Williams said. “And this says a lot about the kind of person Medgar was. I saw on a daily basis all those years what he went through. The physical and emotional toil his work took on him. So, I can see this ship, bearing Medgar’s name,” she continued, “traveling throughout the world making a difference anywhere it is needed.”

Charles Evers said Ray Mabus, who delivered the ceremony’s principal address last month, grew up in Mississippi and has always been sensitive to the plights of black people in the south.

“We’re much older than Ray, but he knew where we lived,” Charles Evers said. “He grew up about 50 miles from us and he knew the circumstances which we all grew up under were wrong. He felt how bad it was for us to grow up in America with racism, bigotry and hatred and he wanted to play a part in changing that image.”

Charles Evers said having a naval ship named for his brother was Mabus’ way of doing that.

“At the ceremony, [Ray] made it clear that he was a former Mississippian,” Charles Evers said. “He spoke from his heart and that’s what meant so much to me. For a former Mississippi governor to speak out like he did, about how he felt about racism, meant so much.”

“I wanted to cry and I didn’t want to cry,” Evers-Williams said when she first learned of the honor. “I was thankful and so grateful to God for something as wonderful as this. I had not forgotten the promise Ray made so many years ago. But I certainly didn’t have in the forefront of my mind that it would be as marvelous as this.”

“There have always been many good white people, but they were always afraid to speak up and speak out,” Charles Evers said. “And now that [Ray] has done this, I hope many more will do the same.”

The USNS Medgar Evers also bears Myrlie Evers-Williams’ name as the official sponsor of the ship, and she said this honor for her family will be carried on for generations. 

“Our son Van, who was 3-years-old when his dad was assassinated, had clearance to photograph the building of the ship from the beginning to the end and he was so excited about that,” she said. “And this is a lasting tribute. Not only for [Medgar’s] children, but his grandchildren and even his great grandchildren. They will have the chance to know this ship exists and to see it for themselves.”

Van and his sister, Reana, also attended the ceremony. Medgar and Myrlie Evers’ oldest son, Darrell, died of colon cancer in 2001.

Charles Evers, who is currently the General Manager and Chairman of WMPR in Jackson, hosts a radio talk show from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. every night where he speaks about the accomplishments of Medgar Evers, Fannie Lou Hamer, Martin Luther King and other political issues.

“My brother and so many others gave their lives for us and it’s time for us to make sure they did not die in vain,” he said. “Let’s do what we can and not become a part of the bigotry and hatred we fought so hard to destroy.”

Myrlie Evers-Williams, who remains dedicated to the memory of her first husband, continues to speak and lecture at various organizations. And like Ray Mabus, she has made a promise to herself, that is to keep the memory of Medgar Evers alive and well. 

“[Ray Mabus] said to me, ‘I made a promise to you two decades ago, and I’m finally able to carry through on that promise,'” Myrlie Evers-Williams said. “And that speaks so strongly of a person, regardless of whether they’re male or female – black, white, whatever, to make sure they keep their promises.”

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