WASHINGTON (NNS) — 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 February.
Established in 1926 as Negro History Week, President Gerald R. Ford expanded the celebration in 1976 to include the entire month of February. This year, Navy commands are encouraged to celebrate and reflect on the theme “Civil Rights in America.
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.
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.
Vice Adm. Michelle Howard is recognized for many first accomplishments, including the recognition as the first female United States Naval Academy graduate to be promoted to the rank of admiral, the first black female to command a combatant ship, and the first black female promoted to two-star and three-star admiral. She has also been confirmed by the Senate to serve as Vice Chief of Naval Operations, the service’s No. 2 uniformed officer. She will be the first black and first woman to hold the job and the first female four-star admiral.
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.
African-Americans continue to serve with distinction, now comprising more than 17 percent of our active duty Navy total force end-strength. Sailors and their commands are encouraged to use this month to celebrate and recognize the exceptional and distinctive contributions and the unique histories and cultures that our African-American shipmates bring to our Navy.
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