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Wed, 09.25.1861

The First Blacks Serve in the Union Navy

USS Hunchback Crew

On this date in 1861, The Union Navy admitted Blacks for military service for the first time, almost a year before the army opened its ranks. Some former slaves risked their lives to enlist, swimming or rowing boats from plantations to Union ships anchored nearby.

Eight Black sailors won the U.S. Medal of Honor for their courage in battle during the American Civil War. During the global conflicts of the first half of the 20th century, Blacks were among the troops committed to combat in World War I and World War II, even though they and other Blacks were barred from the Navy after World War I and not allowed to enlist again until 1932 and then only as kitchen help.

In 1942, the Navy accepted volunteers for general service but prohibited them from going to sea. In 1949, Wesley Brown became the first Black graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy. And in 1996, Admiral J. Paul Reason became the Navy's first Black four-star admiral.

To Have a Military Career

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