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The oiler John Lewis will be christened on July 17 at General Dynamics-NAASCO.
The oiler John Lewis will be christened on July 17 at General Dynamics-NAASCO. (General Dynamics-NAASCO)

SAN DIEGO, Calif. (Tribune News Service) — U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said Thursday she will lead a Congressional delegation to San Diego’s General Dynamics-NASSCO shipyard on July 17 for the christening of the Navy replenishment oiler John Lewis.

Pelosi also is expected to give a speech during the event, an invitation-only ceremony that will be held at NASSCO’s Barrio Logan facility. Actress-activist Alfre Woodward, the ship’s sponsor, will perform the christening.

The christening will come exactly one year after Congressman Lewis, a long-serving Georgia Democrat and one of the nation’s most revered civil rights leaders, died of pancreatic cancer at the age of 80.

The 746-foot ship is the first in a new class of fleet oilers. NASSCO, the largest shipbuilder on the West Coast, is roughly midway through a $3 billion contract to build the first six Lewis-class vessels. The Navy plans to build as many as 20 of the ships. Much of that work could end up going to NASSCO, which has specialized in building large vessels, including cargo ships.

“John Lewis was a warrior for freedom and, as a titan of the civil rights movement, his courage and goodness helped transform our nation,” Pelosi said in a statement.

“In the halls of the Capitol, he was fearless in his pursuit of a more perfect union, whether fighting to defend voting rights, end anti-LGBTQ discrimination or respect the dignity and worth of every person ... America is honoring John Lewis with a fitting tribute.”

The second Lewis-class oiler is now under construction at NAASCO and will be known as Harvey Milk in honor of the late gay rights activist. Milk also was a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. In November 1978, Milk and San Francisco Mayor George Moscone were shot to death by Dan White, a former member of the Board of Supervisors.

NASSCO, which has more than 3,500 workers, also has started work on the third oiler, to be named after Earl Warren, the late Chief Justice of the United States, and Robert F. Kennedy, a U.S. Senator who was assassinated in 1968.

The fifth ship will be called Lucy Stone, after the women’s rights and anti-slavery advocate, and the sixth will be known as Sojourner Truth, after the abolitionist, evangelist and women’s rights activist.

It is not unusual for NASSCO to open ship christenings to the general public. The yard drew a huge crowd in 2014 when it christened the 785-foot Mobile Landing Platform ship John Glenn, which is named after the first American to orbit the Earth in a spacecraft.

A NASSCO official said the Lewis christening will be by invitation-only because planning for the event occurred long before COVID-19 restrictions began to fall across California and the rest of the country.

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©2021 The San Diego Union-Tribune.

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