African American Milestones in Naval History

original US Medal of honor. Eight African Americans received the Medal of Honor during the Civil War.

The following African American individuals served in the 1860s Navy, or who performed notable services in areas related to the Navy of that time:

  • William Tilghman (or Tillman), recaptured the schooner S.J. Waring from a Confederate prize crew on 16 July 1861.
  • Robert Smalls (1839-1915), piloted the Confederate steamer Planter to freedom, 13 May 1862.
  • Robert Blake, earned the Medal of Honor while serving on USS Marblehead during an action off Legareville, South Carolina, 25 December 1863.
  • Joachim Pease (1842-????), earned the Medal of Honor while serving on USS Kearsarge during the battle with CSS Alabama, 19 June 1864.
  • John Lawson (1837-1919), earned the Medal of Honor while serving on USS Hartford during the Battle of Mobile Bay, 5 August 1864.
  • James Mifflin (1839-????), earned the Medal of Honor while serving on USS Brooklyn during the Battle of Mobile Bay, 5 August 1864.
  • Aaron Anderson, earned the Medal of Honor while serving on USS Wyandank during an action in Mattox Creek, Virginia, 17 March 1865.
  • Frank Allen, served on USS Franklin in European waters in 1868.

Sailors Identified

African Americans and the U.S. Navy 1860s

Congressional Medal of Honor Society
Photo #: NH 79956: image of Medal of Honor awarded Fireman First Class Robert Penn earned the Medal of Honor for valor aboard USS Iowa on 14 December 1898 More Info

Info on Medals
Photo of  Navy's Medal of Honor citation log  - Reads - Medal of Honor for jumping overboard from the 
USS Jamestown Decr 20th 1883 at the Navy Yard, New York and rescuing from drowning A. A. George, an Apprentice, who had fallen overboard while crossing the gang plank between the USS Jamestown and Gautic.
 Ordered Dect 29th 1883,  Received Feby 2nd 1884. Sent Feby 2nd 1884 Acknowledged Feby 11th 1884. Photograph of Ordinary Seaman Robert Sweeney's second entry in the Secretary of the Navy's Medal of Honor citation log, NARA RG 24, Entry 372-A. While USS Jamestown was at New York, Navy Yard on 20 December 1883, he rescued a shipmate, A.A. George, who had fallen overboard and was drowning. Sweeney's first Medal of Honor was when he saved a shipmate from drowning while serving on board USS Kearsarge at Hampton Roads, VA, 26 October 1881. African Americans and the U.S. Navy 1870s - 1880s
Yeoman (F) Uniform
Catalog #: 1983.0159.03    Accession #: 1983.0159  Credit: Division of Military History and Diplomacy, National Museum of American History. First black females enlisted in the Navy during WWI

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Selected Images
Photo of Medal of Honor awarded with dull bronze finish Ships Cook Third Class Doris Miller, Mess Attendant First Class Leonard Roy Harmon, and Ships Cook Third Class William Pinckney earned the Navy Cross during World War II; Alonzo Swann and five other African Americans received their awards in 1997 for heroism aboard USS Intrepid on 29 October 1944. Doris Miller

Ship Named in honor of William Pinckney
Image of Holmes ID card from U.S. Naval Air Station New Orleans LA Oscar Holmes was sworn in on 28 September 1942 as an ensign, A-V(p), making him the first African American Naval Aviator. Holmes entered the Navy as a qualified pilot, and was not required to attend basic pilot training. More info
group photo of the "Golden Thirteen" - single largest group of black officers commissioned during World War II

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Jesse Brown in the cockpit of an F4U-4 <I>Corsair</I> fighter, circa 1950. Brown was the first African-American to be trained by the Navy as a Naval Aviator, receiving his designation as a Naval Aviator on 21, Octiber 1948.

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symbol for Seaman apprentice, which is the rank just after recruit. Edna Young - first black enlisted female to serve in the regular Navy in 1948; retired as a Chief

Chief Petty Officer Info
private first class badge. Annie Neal Graham - first black female to enlist in the United States Marine Corps on 8 September 1949

U.S. Marine Corps History Division
File photo (April 19, 2007) - Capt. Thomas David Parham, the Navy’s first black Sailor to be promoted to the rank of captain. Chaplain Thomas Parham - the first black chaplain in the Navy and the first African American naval officer promoted to the rank of captain in February 1966 More Info
captain Contres signing document Department of Defense established the Defense Race Relations Institute in the summer of 1971; it is known today as the Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute (DEOMI) and Captain Kathlene Contres is its Commandant Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute
Samuel L. Gravely, Jr.- many firsts to his credit including the first black to serve on a battleship, to command a combat ship and a fleet; first black officer promoted to flag rank; retired as a Vice Admiral Photos


USS Gravely (DD 107)


Retirement Video
Picture of Joan C. Bynum Navy Nurse Joan C. Bynum, first black female promoted to the rank of captain in 1978

Navy Nurse Corps Association
 Retired Rear Adm. Lillian Fishburne, the Navy's first female African American flag officer. Lillian Fishburne and Barry C. Black - first black female and 1st black chaplain promoted to flag rank in February 1998; After retirement in 2003, Black was elected to serve as the 62nd Chaplain of the U.S. Senate making him the 1st African American, Seventh Day Adventist, and military chaplain in that position Chaplin Corps
photo of Michelle Howard at a podium Michelle J. Howard - many firsts to her credit including the first female United States Naval Academy graduate to be promoted to the rank of admiral, first black female to command a combatant ship, and the first black female promoted to a 2 star admiral Biography
retired Admiral Reason giving a speach Admiral J. Paul Reason-first black promoted to 4 stars in 1996

MCPOCG badge Angela M. McShane - first African American woman promoted to Chief Petty Officer and Master Chief Petty Officer (1999) in the United States Coast Guard Master Chief Petty Officers of the Navy

History of the Chief Petty Officer Grade
Rear Adm. Erroll M. Brown, the Coast Guard's first African American flag officer Erroll M. Brown - a 1972 Coast Guard Academy graduate became the first black admiral in the US Coast Guard in 1998 More Info
Members of the Navy's Centennial Seven, a term used to denote the only African-American officers to command submarines in the 20th Century. "Centennial Seven" - a term used to denote the only African-American officers to command submarines in the 20th Century.
Navy's Centennial Seven

African American Submariners
Astronaut and Navy Captain Winston E. Scott goes for a walk during a space shuttle mission, c. 1997. Astronaut and Navy Captain Winston E. Scott was selected by NASA in March 1992. He served as a mission specialist on STS-72 in 1996 and STS-87 in 1997, and has logged a total of 24 days, 14 hours and 34 minutes in space, including 3 spacewalks totaling 19 hours and 26 minutes. Biographical Data
Capt. Vernice Armour, photo used with permission. Captain Vernice Armour, USMC - earned her wings in 2001; the Department of Defense acknowledged her as the first female African American combat pilot in the military during Operation Iraqi Freedom; she completed two tours in the Persian Gulf; after leaving the Marine Corps, she became an international motivation speaker. Leadership and Growth
Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Installations and Environment. B. J. “Buddy” Penn, a retired naval aviator and captain, the first black to serve as the Acting Secretary of the Navy in 2009 Biography
In 2009, Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus announced that USNS Medgar Evers (T-AKE 13), a dry cargo ship, would be named in honor of the slain civil rights leader Ship named after Civil Rights Activist
Vice Admiral Melvin L. Williams and RADM Victor (Vic) Guillory commanding the Navy’s Second and Fourth Fleets, respectively in 2009; this is the 1st time in naval history that two African Americans had such commands Rear Adm Guillory Biography

Vice Adm Williams Biography

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