Men of Honor: Story of Carl Brashear - RACIAL PREJUDICE IN THE NAVY

RACIAL PREJUDICE IN THE NAVY (Illustration) Ethics Government African American History Film Law and Politics Biographies Famous Historical Events Social Studies

All branches of the U.S. military were segregated until after WWII.  This image, from the U.S. National Archives, depicts a photo taken on April 13, 1942, by Private First Class Victor Tampone. "An MP [military policeman] on motorcycle stands ready to answer all calls around his area. Columbus, Georgia."  As noted by the sign, “his area” had limitations.


The United States Armed Forces, including the Navy, had a long history of racial discrimination against African-Americans when Carl Brashear joined the Navy in February of 1948. Examine some of the evidence from countless examples contained in the National Archives.

  • After WWI was over, the War Department in Washington, D.C. favored "Colored men for the Army only as members of labor units, or ‘pioneer regiments.’"
  • When states (such as Ohio) asked the War Department for approval to create segregated black military National Guard units (while legal segregation was the law of the land), the War Department agreed - as long as the units were “pioneer units.” Citizens in Ohio objected to the demeaning status, insisting the proposal would merely create a black “clean-up battalion.”
  • Even when black labor units were formed, they were usually commanded by white men. When African-Americans were in command, they were governed by “Jim Crow” laws.

Returning black heroes of war wanted their pictures taken in uniform. Some were turned away by whites who operated photography shops. One soldier, wearing a medal for bravery, was told:

We don’t take pictures of Colored people.

Military racial segregation and discrimination continued throughout World War II, but it worsened just after the War:

  • In 1947, only 19.21 percent of the Navy’s regular black personnel were assigned outside the Steward’s Branch.
  • Even the Navy itself was embarrassed that eight out of every ten African-American men in the Navy trained and worked separately from white sailors.
  • With little hope of advancement, men in the Steward’s Branch performed menial tasks and were led by noncommissioned officers.

Carl Brashear enlisted at the Navy's “statistical low point." Beginning his naval career as a steward just after the war, he went to segregated Key West where he worked in the Officers’ Mess.

At the time, blacks could only patronize shops on one street in the town.  But it was also in Key West where Carl Brashear met Chief Boatswain’s Mate Guy P. Johnson who arranged for Carl to get out of the Steward Branch.

In his new job as beachmaster, Carl began his life-long love affair with the sea.

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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5186stories and lessons created

Original Release: Nov 01, 2000

Updated Last Revision: Jan 07, 2016

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"RACIAL PREJUDICE IN THE NAVY" AwesomeStories.com. Nov 01, 2000. Apr 25, 2019.
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