A U.S. Navy oiler like this one will be named for Harriet Tubman, announced in Dorchester County, Md. U.S. Navy photo.

New Navy Ship to be Named for Harriet Tubman, Navy Announces in Cambridge

For the fist time since World War II, a new Navy ship will be named after Maryland abolitionist and Harriet Tubman.

Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro, descendants of Harriet Tubman, and Maryland Department of Natural Resources and Maryland State Parks made the announcement Monday in Church Creek, Maryland.

At an emancipation ceremony hosted by the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Visitors Center, Del Toro officially announced that the Navy’s newest John Lewis-class oil tanker would be named for Tubman, who lived in Dorchester County and helped enslaved people escape to freedom through the wild lands of today’s Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge.

A Harriet Tubman reenactor takes part in the emancipation ceremony where the ship naming was announced. Photo courtesy of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

In addition, Del Toro revealed that the ship’s sponsor will be Tina Wyatt, the great-great-great grandniece of Harriet Tubman. The ship’s sponsor represents a lifelong relationship with the ship and crew. Wyatt works to educate and share the legacy of Harriet Tubman.

There is a tradition of naming John-Lewis class oilers after civil rights leaders. This is only the second vessel to be named after Tubman and the first since World War II. A Liberty ship was built in wartime America bearing her name.

“She was born into unimaginable circumstances, but she dedicated her life to facing great danger and adversity, becoming a ‘conductor of freedom’, helping others escape slavery. In addition, during the Civil War, Tubman was the first African American woman to serve formally in the military,” said Del Toro. “Her legacy deserves our nation’s continued recognition, and our fleet benefits from having her name emblazoned on the hull of one of our great ships.”

Wyatt said,” Aunt Harriet’s legacy is an inspiration to a higher calling within us all, and overall, how we are enabled by sharing love for others and self… Such a strong and dazzling example of symbolism in her honor, the naming of an oiler, a ship that supplies other ships with fuel and cargo to function at its highest level, is an example of what she gave in life and continues to give.”

The future USNS Harriet Tubman is the ninth ship of the John Lewis Class. The class and lead ship are named in honor of the late civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis from Georgia. 

The ships are designed to supply fuel to the Navy’s operating carrier strike groups. The oilers have the ability to carry a load of 162,000 barrels of oil and maintain significant dry cargo capacity. 

-Meg Walburn Viviano