HOUMA, La. — A Mississippi civil rights physician’s legacy was honored during a ceremony in Louisiana marking the construction of a research vessel named after him.

A keel-laying ceremony was held Tuesday to recognize the construction start of Research Vessel Gilbert R. Mason, named after Dr. Gilbert R. Mason Sr., the Houma Courier reported.

Mason died in 2006. He filed a lawsuit in Mississippi that lead to Biloxi public schools becoming the first ones in the state to integrate. He also helped to desegregate beaches in Biloxi.

Representatives from the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium and the University of Southern Mississippi chose to name the ship after Mason in November.

The ship will be the third of three research ships built for the National Science Foundation to add state-of-the-art vessels to the shrinking research fleets in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans and the Gulf.

The agency created by Congress previously said that its oversight body authorized up to $365 million for the project.

The $106 million vessel is 200 feet (60 meters) long and will accommodate a crew of 29 to sea for 21 days. The ship will dock at the Houma Navigation Canal or in Gulfport, Mississippi, depending on which institution is using it.

Since 21-day trips will be possible, scientists can use it to study one of the world’s largest coral reefs, a national marine sanctuary located on the ocean shelf off Texas and Louisiana.

Kim Hunter Reed, Louisiana commissioner of higher education, said the new research vessel represents a commitment to advance science.

A keel-laying ceremony is one of four events celebrating a ship’s life. Next will be a launching ceremony at an unknown date.

The R.V. Gilbert R. Mason is scheduled to be completed in 2023.

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