Faces of the Shipyard:
African American Contributions to the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard

African Americans have a rich history in Kitsap County, the City of Bremerton, and the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard. Individuals migrated to the area in search of new opportunities as early as the 1860s and continue to play important roles within the region today.

This exhibit highlights African American contributions to the Shipyard from 1910 to 2009. The featured individuals contributed to inventions such as the underwater arc cutting process, the portable smelting pot, and improved ways of wastewater disposal. They worked as Riggers, Riveters, and Laborers and served in leadership positions within the Shipyard and Bremerton community. Their commitment enables the Shipyard to serve the U.S. Navy and contributes to a higher quality of life for Bremerton residents.

1910 – 1935

During World War I an influx of people came to Kitsap County in search of employment. The Puget Sound Naval Shipyard's workforce swelled from 1,500 in 1916 to 6,500 in 1918. The increasing population created serious housing shortages in local towns. The government instituted a liberal building program to resolve housing issues.

Census records indicate that by the 1920s, the Shipyard employed over one hundred African Americans from Kitsap County. Still others lived in nearby counties and commuted to work in the Shipyard.

Click photograph for a larger image.

Robert E. Webb

Robert E. Webb began working in the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in 1948. Before beginning his Shipyard career, Webb served in the U.S. Navy from 1918 to 1947. He had the opportunity to first visit Bremerton, WA in 1932 while serving on the USS Constitution. During his Navy career, Webb served as Chief Steward for six different Admirals and travelled around the world on three separate occasions.

Webb returned to Bremerton in 1937 to serve as a Chief Cook. He began working in the Shipyard in 1948 as a Laborer and served in that position until his retirement twenty-five years later. He was an active member of Mount Zion Baptist Church and the Mason's Hamma Hamma Lodge No. 35. Before his death on April 1, 1999 at age 100, Webb was the oldest retired Navy Master Chief Petty Officer.

John Henry (Dick) Turpin

John Henry (Dick) Turpin dedicated more than fifty years of his life to the U.S. Navy, creating an impressive naval legacy. He first served in the Navy from 1896 to 1925. Turpin performed two acts of heroism during this time. The first act occurred in 1898 onboard USS Maine when it was bombed in Havana Harbor, Cuba. During the crisis, Turpin saved the life of Captain Sigsbee. In 1905, he survived the USS Bennington explosion and saved many of his shipmates's lives. In 1917, Turpin became one of the Navy's first African American Chief Petty Officers when appointed Chief Gunner's Mate of the USS Marblehead.

On October 5, 1925, John Henry (Dick) Turpin retired from the U.S. Navy and moved to Bremerton with his wife, Kathryn. They both found employment at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard. Turpin began work as a Master Rigger and made significant contributions to the Shipyard during his twenty-two years there.

During World War II Turpin volunteered to make inspirational visits to recruit African Americans. In 1942, the Naval Enlisted Men's Club at the Whidbey Island Naval Station was named the "Dick Turpin Enlisted Men's Club" in his honor.

Turpin as Navy Diver

Turpin was one of the Navy's earliest divers, earning the title of Skin Diver and later becoming a Master Diver. He was one of the people responsible for perfecting the underwater cutting torch. This was a great value to the Navy in saving the lives of sailors trapped underwater in ships and saved money on routine repair work for the Shipyard.

First Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) Church Congregation, 1920

John Enox, a Shipyard employee, established First A.M.E. Church as early as 1909. It was the first African American church in the Bremerton area, and Shipyard workers made up a significant part of the congregation.


Kathryn Turpin moved to Bremerton during the 1920s with her husband, John Henry (Dick) Turpin. She worked as a Riveter in the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard during World War I and may also have served in the U.S. Navy. She is the third woman pictured (from left) in the World War I Riveters photograph. She appears to be wearing a U.S. Navy uniform.

Turpin was a member of Bremerton's First A.M.E. Church and an active member of the Women Mite Missionary Society. The Society helped women in need in the local community as well as in foreign countries. Turpin died in 1940 and was buried at Woodlawn Cemetery in Bremerton.

Laura Moore was a Riveter at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard during World War I. She later worked in the Shop 72 gear shack, issuing rags and brooms to the girls who cleaned out ship bilges. She is the fourth woman pictured (from left) in the World War I Riveters photograph.


Workers laying down railroad tracks in the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard

Long Service

Reverend Anthony Modisett (left) came to Bremerton in 1944 in order to make a better living for his family. Before moving to the area, he had worked in an Arkansas school for 37 years where his monthly salary was $30 per month. Modisett worked in the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard until his retirement.

William Walter Simmons (right) first obtained employment with the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard as a janitor in the Administration Building in 1918. In 1919, he received a special permit from the Secretary of the Navy, which allowed him to become part of Bremerton's law enforcement while he continued to work in the Shipyard. Simmons was hired as a regular deputy during World War II, although he could only arrest African Americans. His patrol included the African American neighborhood of Sinclair Park.

Simmons belonged to a number of organizations including the N.A.A.C.P., Masons, and Elks. He founded the Hamma Hamma Lodge #35 and the Madrona Chapter of O.E.S. He retired from the Shipyard in 1946 after thirty-one years of service, but continued to work for the Sherriff's Department.

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