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Wed, 02.16.1944

The Golden Thirteen Begin Military Training

*This date in 1944 celebrates “The Golden Thirteen.” This was the first Black naval officer-training group in Ameria.

In January of that year, the naval officer corps was all white. There were some one hundred thousand African American enlisted men in the Navy, yet none were officers. In response to growing pressure from American civil rights organizations, the leaders of the Navy reluctantly tackled commissioning a few as officers.

Sixteen Black enlisted men were summoned to Camp Robert Smalls, Great Lakes Naval Training Station in Illinois, they were:  Jesse W. Arbor, Samuel Barnes, Philip Barnes, Dalton Baugh, George C. Cooper, Reginald Goodwin, James E. Hair, Graham E. Martin, Dennis Nelson, John W. Reagan, Frank E. Sublett Jr., William S. White, Charles Lear, Lewis Williams, J. B. Pinkney, and A. Alves. All had demonstrated excellent leadership abilities as enlisted men. The pace was demanding and forced the sixteen men to band together so that all could succeed. During their officer candidate training, they compiled a class average of 3.89, a record that has yet to be broken.

Although all passed the course, in March 1944, thirteen of the group made history when they became the U.S. Navy's first African American officers on active duty.  Twelve were commissioned as ensigns; the thirteenth was made a warrant officer. They became known as the "Golden Thirteen." They were often denied the privileges and respect routinely accorded white naval officers and were given menial assignments. Only one of the Golden Thirteen made a career of the Navy. The others made their marks in civilian life after World War II.

Library of Congress
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