Six women of Little Rock Nine are submarine’s sponsors

NEWPORT NEWS, Va, (WAVY) – Shipbuilders, along with senior Navy leaders and members of Congress honored members of the Little Rock Nine, during a keel-laying ceremony at Newport News Shipyard Saturday for the future Virginia-class submarine USS Arkansas.

“Today is a momentous occasion, not just for the shipbuilders who will pour their considerable skills into building this submarine, but also for the sailors who will deploy aboard Arkansas and patrol the ocean’s depths in service of our nation and our way of life,” said Rear Adm. Jon Rucker, Program Executive Office, Attack Submarines. “Virginia-class submarines, such as Arkansas, and their dedicated crews will ensure our Navy remains ready to deter maritime aggression, maintain freedom of the seas, and defend our country and allies well into the future.”

Also known as SSN 800, the USS Arkansas will be the fifth naval vessel to bear the name Arkansas. The original Arkansas was a Civil War-era screw steamer.

In 1902, an Arkansas-class monitor – one of last in the U.S. Navy – was commissioned with the same name.

The third Arkansas, a Wyoming-class battleship, was commissioned in 1912, while the fourth, which was in service from 1980 until 1998, was a Virginia-class nuclear-powered guided missile cruiser.

The submarine’s sponsors are the six women of the Little Rock Nine – Dr. Melba Pattillo Beals, Elizabeth Eckford, Gloria Ray Karlmark, Carlotta Walls Lanier, Minnijean Brown Trickey, and Thelma Mothershed Wair – who were among the nine African American children who were the first people of color to attend Central High School in Little Rock, Ark., which had been a previously all-white campus.

In a 1954 landmark decision, the Supreme Court ruled racial segregation of schools unconstitutional. President Dwight D. Eisenhower eventually federalized the Arkansas National Guard to protect them during their integration. The Little Rock Nine, as they became known, have spent their lives advocating for quality education.

Shipbuilders welded the six women’s initials onto steel plates that will be affixed to the ship, as is Navy tradition. The men of the group – Ernest G. Green, Dr. Terrence J. Roberts and the late Jefferson Thomas – were also honored during the ceremony.

“With advances in sound silencing, acoustic sensors, and weapons delivery systems, Arkansas will traverse the world’s oceans and seas as an Apex Predator,” said Vice. Adm. Bill Houston, Commander, Naval Submarine Forces. “Representing our asymmetric advantage in the undersea domain, Arkansas will have no equal.”

Arkansas will be the 27th Virginia-class submarine.