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Captain Blackford and crew
*On this date we remember the USS Mason, a WWII warship manned by a predominantly Black crew that served as a role model for the integration of U.S. Navy ships.
Though launched November 17, 1943 at Boston Navy Yard’s Pier 6, the ship wasn’t commissioned until March 1944. The USS Mason (DE-529) was a Destroyer Escort. Length: 289’5", Beam: 35’1", Draft: 11’10". Speed of 21 knots, with 6 officers, and 150 Black enlisted men. By the time the Mason was decommissioned; all the chief petty officers were Black. The ship escorted six convoys across the North Atlantic.
In July of 1944, the ship arrived in Belfast, Northern Ireland. While the Republic of Ireland was technically neutral during World War II, Northern Ireland had been at war since 1939, had suffered through the blitz, and saw over 300,000 American servicemen and women pass through their tiny country. The Blacks on the crew's concern about how the Irish would treat them was soon replaced by joy. The men of the Mason still talk about this profoundly positive experience.
During World War II, when the storm of the century stopped a naval convoy station in Normandy, the African American men of the USS Mason were chosen to escort them to safety. The deck split, and under appalling conditions the men heroically repaired the ship at sea, rescuing the entire convoy. Their heroic action continued to bring down the Navy’s racist color barriers and policies opening the doors for a new generation of African Americans. The Mason was called "Eleanor’s Folly," a reference to First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, a vocal advocate of desegregation of the armed forces.
The ship’s white captain, Bill Blackford, affectionately referred to as "Big Bill" by his crew, was the great grandson of abolitionist Mary Berkeley Minor Blackford. Also a Submarine chaser, PC-1264 was commissioned during WWII with an all Black crew, including the Navy’s first Black officer, who captained the vessel. Immediately after the war, the Mason was used as a training and experimental ship. The Mason was sold for scrap in 1947.
In February 1995, surviving crewmen were awarded letters of commendation for their meritorious service and steadfast devotion to duty. Over 150,000 Blacks served in the US Navy during WWII.
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