GULFPORT, Miss. (AP) — A new oceanographic research ship will be named for a Mississippi physician who filed one of the Deep South’s first school desegregation lawsuits and led wade-ins to integrate a federally funded public beach.
The Research Vessel Gilbert R. Mason will be named for Dr. Gilbert R. Mason Sr., whose lawsuit — filed for his son, Gilbert Mason Jr. — made Biloxi’s public schools the first in Mississippi to integrate, according to a news release Friday from the University of Southern Mississippi.
The wade-ins he led from 1959 to 1963 “led to repeated arrests, bombings and reprisals,” but a lawsuit that he filed ultimately desegregated the beach at Biloxi, the statement said.
At one wade-in, about 200 African Americans were faced with three times as many whites “with pipes and chains and baseball bats and cue sticks,” Mason recalled in a video archived at The Historymakers website.
Mason also served on an advisory committee to President Richard Nixon’s Cabinet Committee on Education and as a consultant to President Jimmy Carter. After Hurricane Camille, he was on the Mississippi governor’s emergency council to plan the Gulf Coast’s reconstruction and recovery.
His name was among more than 160 submitted, said Leila Hamdan, interim associate director for USM’s School of Ocean Science and Engineering. The university, along with the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium, will lead the group created to operate the ship.
“The lives of Dr. Gilbert Mason and his son are a lesson in equality, their legacy a call for action,” said LUMCON Executive Director Craig McClain. “The naming of the RCRV for the Masons is a first step towards greater inclusivity and diversity in ocean science.”
The ship will be built at Gulf Island Fabricators in Houma, Louisiana, and is expected to begin studies in the Gulf of Mexico in 2023. It will have homeports at Gulfport and Houma, Louisiana. Universities in every Gulf state, as well as Georgia, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and Mexico also are part of its operating consortium.
The $100 million vessel will be the third of three research ships built for the National Science Foundation.