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From Navy ships to Comic-Con: Rep. John Lewis' legacy in San Diego remembered

Andrew Aydin, John Lewis, Nate Powell
Congressman John Lewis Attends Keel Laying of Namesake Ship
Congressman John Lewis Attends Keel Laying of Namesake Ship
Congressman John Lewis Attends Keel Laying of Namesake Ship
Posted at 8:55 PM, Jul 18, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-19 02:11:15-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — Saturday, Americans mourned the death of Congressman John Lewis after his battle with stage 4 pancreatic cancer.

Lewis, a Democrat who represented Georgia's 5th Congressional district for 17 years, was part of the "Big Six" civil rights activists who organized the March on Washington in 1963.

In San Diego, the civil rights icon is also remembered through two unique ties.

RELATED: U.S. flags at half-staff in memory of Rep. John Lewis

A little more than a year ago, Lewis was donning protective gear to weld his initials into his namesake ship at a San Diego shipyard. On May 13, 2019, Lewis pulled welding gloves over his hands to fuse his initials into the keel plate of the USNS John Lewis at the General Dynamics Shipyard — the lead ship in a class of oiler vessels.

Consistent with his commitment to non-violence, the ships will be non-combat vessels but play a vital role in refueling other ships at sea.

"For the U.S. Navy and former Secretary Ray Mabus to see fit to honor me in this way is unreal and almost unimaginable," Lewis said in a statement last year. "I only try to do what is fair, what is right, and what is just and get in what I call good trouble, necessary trouble. This class of ships pays tribute to the powerful contribution each and every participant in the struggle for civil rights and social justice has made to help build a true democracy in America."

The lead ship is set to launch in December 2020, according to General Dynamics.

RELATED: Civil rights leader and congressman John Lewis has died at 80

At San Diego's pop culture event of the year, Lewis made himself a regular. The civil rights icon introduced San Diego Comic-Con fans to his heroic story through the graphic novel trilogy, "MARCH."

Lewis' trilogy series tells the story of his childhood and how he became an activist. The graphic novel became the first to win the National Book Award and received four American Library Association awards for youth literature.

But Lewis didn't just engage SDCC fans through the pages of each book, but on the convention floor as well.

In multiple years, Lewis led attendees on a march through the convention center. He wore the same coat and backpack he wore on "Bloody Sunday" on March 7, 1965, when he and other civil rights leaders peacefully marched across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Alabama and faced attacks by state troopers.

"It was very moving, it reminds me of another period, but it's very moving to see all these young children that are reading 'March' and teachers that are teaching it," Lewis told ABC 10News in 2016.

Two very unique ways Lewis' name will live on in San Diego.

Lewis was a Medal of Freedom recipient, served in several capacities in the U.S. House of Representatives, and received numerous awards, including the NAACP Chairman’s Award in 2020. For more information about the San Diego branch of the NAACP, click here.