Article by MIDN 1/C Huynh, Photo by SECNAV public affairs staff
Ten midshipmen had the amazing opportunity to attend the naming ceremony of the US Navy’s newest fleet replenishment oilers, T-AO 209 and 210. This service, held in the Boston Public Library, showcased the social reforms which have come to the US Navy under Ray Mabus’ direction. The Secretary of the Navy has named this newest class of oilers the John Lewis-class, after the civil rights activist Rep. John Lewis, and has declared that he would name all subsequent ships after those who fight for human rights. Notably, Secretary Mabus named T-AO 206 “USNS Harvey Milk,” after the LGBTQ rights activist who was assassinated while in political office.
The moving ceremony started off with the presentation of colors and national anthem by the USS Constitution staff. Secretary Mabus then rose and addressed the audience, commenting on the fact that all of the sailors from the USS Constitution staff — both men and women — were wearing the same uniform. Females in the military, he pointed out, were routinely separated from the rest of their comrades in both duties and uniform. But it is clear that he will not stand for this type of inequality in today’s Navy. He told the audience, “you weren’t looking at male sailors or female sailors. You were looking at sailors, and that’s the way it ought to be.”
The SECNAV announced the names for the two newest oilers, which further highlighted his dedication to gender equality and civil rights in the Navy. He named the new oilers the USNS Lucy Stone and the USNS Sojourner Truth, after historic female civil rights leaders.
Lucy Stone was a vocal advocate for women’s rights and the first woman to earn a college degree in Massachusetts. A strong, driven woman, Lucy Stone famously decided to keep her own name after marriage, which was nearly unheard of in the 17th century, and vocally pushed for legislation to abolish slavery and to promote women’s rights and suffrage.
Sojourner Truth was a black woman born into slavery in 1797. Originally born Isabella Baumfree, she changed her name to Sojourner Truth after her escape to freedom, and became an extraordinarily outspoken human rights advocate, known for her speech “Ain’t I A Woman.” She became the first black woman to win a lawsuit against a white man after she sued for custody of her son, who had been sold to a different master after she fled to freedom.
Secretary Mabus also announced the sponsors for the two newest ships during the naming ceremony. For the USNS Lucy Stone, he chose Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and for the USNS Sojourner Truth, he chose Marian Wright Edelman, the founder and president of the Children’s Defense Fund.
Ms. Wright attended the ceremony, and spoke on the importance of women’s rights and civil rights activism. She read a quote from Sojourner Truth, which is inscribed on a pendant she wears around her neck: “If women want any rights more than they’ve got, why don’t they just take them and not be talking about it?” Wright exhorted the gathered crowd to take these words seriously, saying that “these are our marching orders.”
After closing remarks by SECNAV, and the reveal of the USNS Sojourner Truth and USNS Lucy Stone, the ceremony was over. The Midshipmen in attendance had the opportunity to talk with some of the former military members in the audience, and then snagged a photo with the Secretary himself (shown above).
The BU-MIT Midshipmen left the ceremony with pride in the tenets which their uniforms represent. MIDN 2/C Henzer of Tufts University commented that “hearing the SECNAV’s explanation of why these ships were receiving these names was extremely important in terms of acknowledging the ideals we fight for, especially given that these women were leaders outside of a military context.” Of course, he also admitted, “getting to see the SECNAV himself was an amazing opportunity, and we all left feeling much more motivated about the service.”