Black History Month is an annual celebration of the contributions, achievements and the immeasurable impact that African Americans have had on our nation and its history.
As USS Gerald R. Ford steamed in the Atlantic Ocean this week, the crew took a moment to pause and reflect on Black History Month.
African Americans have always been a part of our nation's armed forces even though they weren't always able to serve in the many facets that we see today. In fact, at the start of World War II they weren't even allowed to enlist in the Navy's general service until 1942. They were only able to enlist as messmen, cooks and waiters whose chief function was to serve food to other Sailors.
By January 1944, there were roughly 100,000 African American men serving in the Navy. These Sailors quickly demonstrated their expertise, willingness to serve and dedication to their country despite the challenges they faced due to the color of their skin.
"Black History Month has been a great celebration of the pioneers that paved the way for me and many others," said Ford's Command Master Chief Deandre Beaufort. "In the armed services, Black History Month reminds us of where we came from."
Although African Americans could enlist in the United States Navy, none were able to be commissioned as officers until a group of 16 African American men were assembled at Recruit Training Center, Great Lakes in Illinois for officer training in January 1944. There was a strong sentiment that they could not succeed as officers. These men demonstrated that not only could African Americans succeed as officers, but that they could excel. The normal officer course was sixteen weeks long and these men completed the training in 8 with an average grade point average of 3.98 out of 4, the highest average of any class in Navy history at the time. Even though all sixteen men had passed the course, the Navy only wished to commission 12 as officers and a thirteenth as a warrant officer, sending the remaining 3 men back into the enlisted ranks. These thirteen men would become known as the "Golden Thirteen."
In October of 1944, President Franklin D. Roosevelt agreed to reopen the Navy to African American women, who had not been permitted to serve since World War I. This order was the precursor to the commissioning of the Navy's first 2 African American female officers, Frances Eliza Willis and Harriet Ida Pickens, who were sworn in to the WAVES (Women Accepted for Voluntary Emergency Services) on November 13, 1944 and commissioned on December 26, 1944.
These unprecedented accomplishments, in such a short time period paved the way for others like, Ens. Jesse Brown, the first African American Naval Aviator, Capt. Chancellor Alphonso "Pete" Tzomes, the first African American to command a nuclear-powered submarine, and Lt. Cmdr. Wesley Brown, the first African American U.S. Naval Academy Graduate.
These men and women persevered when faced with adversity. In doing so they proved their leadership abilities and demonstrated that African American Sailors are not only able and willing to serve in our Navy, but are able to do so with extraordinary distinction.
The lessons learned from these trailblazers continue to be passed on even today. For Sailors like Yeoman Second class Jocelyn McCoy, it comes in the form of encouragement and inspiration from her chain of command.
"Lt. Cmdr. [Shannon] Morris, he motivates me to go for OCS (Officer Candidate School)," said McCoy. "Since he was shown that he could do it, he wants me to know that I can do it too. He knows I have the potential and the mindset."
The Navy has trained a generation of outstanding African American officers and enlisted personnel who provide critical leadership and expertise in times of peace and conflict.
Today's African American Sailors stand proudly knowing the accomplishments of their predecessors and continue to distinguish themselves ashore, on ships, in aircraft and on submarines.
"By taking the time to educate ourselves on our history and the people who shaped this nation, we can more fully appreciate the ideals set down by the founders…It's a reminder that our work is to sustain freedom and ensure that rights and liberty belong to all our citizens." said Adm. Michelle J. Howard, in response to "What does Black History Month mean to you?", Naval History and Heritage Command.
Ford is underway in the Atlantic Ocean conducting carrier qualifications.
For more news from USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78), visit www.dvidshub.net/unit/CVN78