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Navy Celebrates African-American/Black History Month

Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives Doris Miller, Mess Attendant Second Class, USN receives the Navy Cross from Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, at an awards ceremony held on the flight deck of USS Enterprise (CV-6) at Pearl Harbor, 27 May 1942. The medal was awarded for heroism on board USS West Virginia (BB-48) during the Pearl Harbor Attack, 7 December 1941.


by NDW Public Affairs

The Navy joins our nation in celebrating the vibrant history and culture of African-American and black Sailors during African-American/Black History Month throughout the month of February.

The recognition of African American/Black History Month originated in 1926 as Negro History Week, as an initiative led by Carter G. Woodson to recognize the contribution of African Americans to our country and to foster a better understanding of the African American experience. This year, Navy commands are encouraged to celebrate and reflect on the theme “A Century of Black Life, History, and Culture.”

“We (African-Americans) bring the same value as any other ethnicity in the Navy,” said Chief Mass Communication Specialist Sam Spain, Naval District Washington regional command climate specialist. “Now we’re able to show our talents and the things that we’re able to do because previously African-Americans were limited to do certain jobs in the Navy, but now we have our first female African-American Vice Chief of Naval Operations four star admiral, that lets everybody know that the sky is the limit.”

African-American Sailors have a legacy of honorable service that permeates our naval history through every major armed conflict since the Revolutionary War. During the Civil War, African-American Sailors fought on every kind of Union warship, accounting for 10 to 24 percent of each ship’s crew, and included eight Medal of Honor recipients.

During World War II, the Golden Thirteen were an example of African-Americans breaking new ground in the Navy and in American society. In February 1944, 12 prior-enlisted black servicemen were commissioned as ensigns and a 13th was made a warrant officer. They were the first group of black servicemen to complete officer training in the Navy and led the way for future African-Americans. These 13 officers not only made a contribution to the Navy during World War II, but to society as well. By the end of the war, 64 African-Americans had become officers in the Navy.

Striving for equality at home and blazing a trail for future African-American Sailors, Wesley A. Brown became the first black graduate of the United States Naval Academy in 1949, joining the Navy’s Civil Engineer Corps and retiring at the rank of lieutenant commander. He passed away May 22, 2012 after a distinguished career both in the Navy and in the civilian workforce.

“My dad did 30 years in the Marine Corps so I kind of followed that and looked up to him, but I also have Doris Miller, the stuff that he was able to do during World War Two it actually good, but there was actually a lot of people that actually paved the way for us African-Americans males and females to open up the door to do more than just the average culinary specialist or mess attendant,” said Spain.

Edna Young was the first black woman to enlist in the regular Navy and later the first black woman to achieve the rank of chief petty officer. Young joined the Navy after the passage of the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act July 7, 1948.

In December 1996, Adm. J. Paul Reason became the first black naval officer to wear four stars and assumed command of the Atlantic Fleet, comprising nearly 200 warships, 1,400 aircraft, and 122,000 service men and women based at 18 major shore facilities.

These outstanding examples of African-American Sailors are just a handful of those marking history with firsts and distinguishing the Navy as a force for freedom and equality.

“I think it is very important that everyone knows the achievements that African-Americans have brought to the table,” said Spain. “Each culture from each branch have done something tremendous I am glad that the African-American History Month is being recognized and it is good for Junior Sailors as well as Senior Enlisted and Officers to know that, you didn’t get this on your own, there’s people that paved the way for you and this is a tremendous tribute to give to them.”

Observed during the second week of February, a week that encompassed the birthdays of two champions of equality, Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, the event brought National recognition to African American contributions to America throughout her history. Fifty years after its creation, during the bicentennial of the United States in 1976, President Gerald R. Ford expanded the observance and proclaimed February to be Black History Month.

More information on the many milestones achieved by black Sailors and the history of the African-American Navy experience can be found at the Naval History and Heritage Command webpage at http://www.history.Navy.mil/special%20highlights/africanamerican/african-hist.htm. A full-color brochure on the history of African-Americans in the United States Navy is also available for download through the Naval History and Heritage Command link.

A complete educational presentation, including a downloadable educational poster on African American/Black History month, can be requested from the Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute (DEOMI) by email at deomipa@us.af.mil.

More information on Navy diversity events, including the observance of African-American/Black History Month, can be found on the Navy Office of Diversity and Inclusion calendar at http://www.public.navy.mil/bupers-npc/support/21st_Century_Sailor/diversity/Pages/default2.aspx.

For more news from Chief of Naval Personnel, visit www.navy.mil/local/cnp/.



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