That Army concerns and problems dominated the discussions of race relations in the armed forces in the postwar years is understandable since the Army had the largest number of Negroes and the most widely publicized segregation policy of all the services. At the same time the Army bore, unfairly, the brunt of public criticism for all the services' race problems. The Navy, committed to a policy integration, but with relatively few Negroes in its integrated general service or in the ranks of the segregated Marine Corps and the new Air Force, its racial policy still fluid, merely attracted less attention and so escaped many of the charges hurled at the Army by civil rights advocates both in and out of the federal government. But however different or unformed their racial policies, all the services for the most part segregated Negroes in practice and all were open to charges of discrimination.
Although the services developed different racial policies out of their separate circumstances, all three were reacting to the same set of social forces and all three suffered from race prejudice. They alto faced in common a growing indifference to military careers on the part of talented young Negroes who in any case would have to compete with an aging but persistent group of less talented black professionals for a limited number of jobs. Of great importance was the fact that the racial practices of the armed forces were a product of the individual service's military traditions. Countless incidents support the contention that service traditions were a transcendent factor in military decisions. Marx Leva, Forrestal's assistant, told the story of a Forrestal subordinate who complained that some admirals were still opposed to naval aviation, to which Forrestal replied that he knew some admirals who still opposed steam engines.1 Forrestal's humorous exaggeration underscored the tenacity of traditional attitudes in the Navy. Although self-interest could never be discounted as a motive, tradition also figured prominently, for example, in the controversy between proponents of the battleship and proponents of the aircraft carrier. Certainly the influence of tradition could be discerned in the antipathy of Navy officials toward racial change. 2
The Army also had its problems with tradition. It endured tremendous inner conflict before it decided to drop the cavalry in favor of mechanized and armored units. Nor did the resistance to armor die quickly. Former Chief of Staff Peyton C. March reported that a previous Chief of Cavalry told him in 1950 that the Army had betrayed the horse. 3 President Roosevelt was also a witness to how military tradition frustrated attempts to change policy. He picked his beloved Navy to make the point: "To change anything in the Na-a-vy is like punching a feather bed. You punch it with your right and you punch it with your left until you are finally exhausted, and then you find the damn bed just as it was before you started punching."4 Many senior officers resisted equal treatment and opportunity simply because of their traditional belief that Negroes needed special treatment and any basic change in their status was fraught with danger.5
Still, tradition could work two ways, and in the case of the Navy, at least, the postwar decision to liberalize racial practices can be traced in part to its sense of tradition. When James Forrestal started to integrate the general service in 1944, his appeals to his senior military colleagues, the President, and the public were always couched in terms of military efficiency. But if military efficiency made the new polity announced in February 1946 inevitable, military tradition made partial integration acceptable. Black sailors had served in significant numbers in an integrated general service during the nation's first century and a half, and those in the World War II period who spoke of a traditional Navy ban against Negroes were just as wrong as those who spoke of a traditional ban on liquor. The same abstemious secretary who completely outlawed alcohol on warships in 1914 initiated the short-lived restrictions on the service of Negroes in the Navy.6 Both limited integration and liquor were old traditions in the American Navy, and the influence of military tradition made integration of the general service relatively simple.
Forrestal was convinced that in order to succeed racial reform must first be accepted by the men already in uniform; integration, if quietly and gradually put into effect, would soon demonstrate its efficiency and make the change acceptable to all members of the service. Quiet gradualism became the hallmark of his effort. In August 1945 the Navy had some 165,000 Negroes, almost 5.5 percent of its total strength. Sixty-four of them, including six women, were commissioned officers.7 Presumably, these men and women would be the first to enjoy the fruits of the new integration order. Their number could also be expected to increase because, as Secretary Forrestal reported in August 1946, the only quotas on enlistment were those determined by the needs of the Navy and the limitation of funds.8 Even as he spoke, at least some black sailors were being trained in almost all naval ratings and were serving throughout the fleet, on planes and in submarines, working and living with whites. The signs pointed to a new day for Negroes in the Navy.
SHORE LEAVE IN KOREA. Men of the USS Topeka land In Inch'on, 1948. [Photograph not included.]
But during the chaotic months of demobilization a different picture began to emerge. Although Negroes continued to number about 5 percent of the Navy's enlisted strength, their position altered radically. The average strength figures for 1946 showed 3,300 Negroes, 16 percent of the total black strength, serving in the integrated general service while 17,300, or 84 percent, were classified as stewards. By mid-1948 the outlook was somewhat brighter, but still on the average only 38 percent of the Negroes in the Navy held jobs in the general service while 62 percent remained in the nonwhite Steward's Branch. At this time only three black officers remained on active duty. Again, what Navy officials saw as military efficiency helps explain this postwar retreat. Because of its rapidly sinking manpower needs, the Navy could afford to set higher enlistment standards than the Army, and the fewer available spaces in the general service went overwhelmingly to the many more eligible whites who applied. Only in the Steward's Branch, with its separate quotas and lower enlistment standards, did the Navy find a place for the many black enlistees as well as the thousands of stewards ready and willing to reenlist for peacetime service.
If efficiency explains why the Navy's general service remained disproportionately white, tradition explains how segregation and racial exclusion could coexist with integration in an organization that had so recently announced a progressive racial policy. Along with its tradition of an integrated general service, the Navy had a tradition of a white officer corps. It was natural for the Navy to exclude black officers from the Regular Navy, Secretary John L. Sullivan said later, just as it was common to place Negroes in mess jobs.9 A modus vivendi could be seen emerging from the twin dictates of efficiency and tradition: integrate a few thousand black sailors throughout the general service in fulfillment of the letter of the Bureau of Naval Personnel circular; as for the nonwhite Steward's Branch and the lack of black officers, these conditions were ordinary and socially comfortable. Since most Navy leaders agreed that the new policy was fair and practical, no further changes seemed necessary in the absence of a pressing military need or a demand from the White House or Congress.
To black publicists and other advocates of civil rights, the Navy's postwar manpower statistics were self-explanatory: the Navy was discriminating against the Negro. Time and again the Navy responded to this charge, echoing Secretary Forrestal's contention that the Navy had no racial quotas and that all restrictions on the employment of black sailors had been lifted. As if suggesting that all racial distinctions had been abandoned, personnel officials discontinued publishing racial statistics and abolished the Special Programs Unit.10 Cynics might have ascribed other motives for these decisions, but the civil rights forces apparently never bothered. For the most part they left the Navy's apologists to struggle with the increasingly difficult task of explaining why the placement of Negroes deviated so markedly from assignment for whites.
The Navy's difficulty in this regard stemmed from the fact that the demobilization program under which it geared down from a 3.4 million-man service to a peacetime force of less than half a million was quite straightforward and simple. Consequently, the latest state of the Negro in the Navy was readily apparent to the black serviceman and to the public. The key to service in the postwar Navy was acceptance into the Regular Navy. The wartime Navy had been composed overwhelmingly of reservists and inductees, and shortly after V-J day the Navy announced plans for the orderly separation of all reservists by September 1946. In April 1946 it discontinued volunteer enlistment in the Naval Reserve for immediate active duty, and in May it issued its last call draftees through Selective Service.11
At the same time the Bureau of Naval Personnel launched a vigorous program to induce reservists to switch to the Regular Navy. In October 1945 it opened all petty officer ratings in the Regular Navy to such transfers and offered reservists special inducements for changeover in the form of ratings, allowance extras, and, temporarily, short-term enlistments. So successful was the program that by July 1947 the strength of the Regular Navy had climbed to 488,712, or a few thousand short of the postwar authorization. The Navy ended its changeover program in early 1947.12 While it lasted, black reservists and inductees shared in the program, although the chief of the personnel recruiting division found it necessary to amplify the recruiting instructions to make this point clear. 13 The Regular Navy included 7,066 enlisted Negroes on V-J day, 2.1 percent of the total enlisted strength. This figure nearly tripled in the next year to 20,610, although the percentage of Negroes only doubled. 14
The major concern of the civil rights groups was not so much the number of Negroes in the Regular Navy, although this remained far below the proportion of Negroes in the civilian population, but that the majority of Negroes were being accepted for duty in the nonwhite Steward's Branch. More than 97 percent of all black sailors in the Regular Navy in December 1945 were in this branch. The ratio improved somewhat in the next six months when 3,000 black general service personnel (out of a wartime high of 90,000) transferred into the Regular Navy while more than 10,000 black reservists and draftees joined the 7,000 regulars already in the Steward's Branch. 15 The statistical low point in terms of the ratio of Negroes in the postwar regular general service and the Steward's Branch occurred in fiscal year 1947 when only 19.21 percent of the Navy's regular black personnel were assigned outside the Steward's Branch. 16 In short, more than eight out of every ten Negroes in the Navy trained and worked separately from white sailors, performing menial tasks and led by noncommissioned officers denied the perquisites of rank.
The Navy itself had reason to be concerned. The Steward's Branch created efficiency problems and was a constant source of embarrassment to the service's public image. Because of its low standards, the branch attracted thousands of poorly educated and underprivileged individuals who had a high rate of venereal disease but were engaged in preparing and serving food. Leaders within the branch itself, although selected on the basis of recommendations from superiors, examinations, and seniority, were often poor performers. Relations between the individual steward and the outfit to which he was assigned were often marked by personal conflicts and other difficulties. Consequently, while stewards eagerly joined the branch in the Regular Navy, the incidence of disciplinary problems among them was high. The branch naturally earned the opprobrium of civil rights groups, who were sensitive not only to the discrimination of a separate branch for minorities but also to the unfavorable image these men created of Negroes in the service. 17
MESS ATTENDANTS, USS BUSHNELL, 1918 [Photograph not included.]
The Navy had a ready defense for its management of the branch. Its spokesmen Frequently explained that it performed an essential function, especially at sea. Since this function was limited in scope, they added, the Navy was able to reduce the standards for the branch, thus opening opportunities for many men otherwise ineligible to join the service. In order to offer a chance for advancement the Navy had to create a separate recruiting and training system for stewards. This separation in turn explained the steward's usual failure to transfer to branches in the regular command channels. Since there were no minimum standards for the branch, it followed that most of its noncommissioned officers remained unqualified to exercise military command over personnel other than their branch subordinates. Lack of command responsibility was also present in a number of other branches not directly concerned with the operation of ships. It was not the result of race prejudice, therefore, but of standards for enlistment and types of duties performed. Nor was the steward's frequent physical separation based on race; berthing was arranged by department and function aboard large vessels. Separation did not exist on smaller ships. Messmen were usually berthed with other men of the supply department, including bakers and storekeepers. Chief stewards, however, as Under Secretary Kimball later explained, had not been required to meet the military qualifications for chief petty officer, and therefore it was "considered improper that they should be accorded the same messing, berthing, club facilities. and other privileges reserved for the highest enlisted grade of the Navy." 18 Stewards of the lower ranks received the same chance for advancement as members of other enlisted branches, but to grant them command responsibility would necessitate raising qualifications for the whole branch, thus eliminating many career Stewards and extending steward training to include purely military subjects.19
MESS ATTENDANTS, USS WISCONSIN, 1953 [Photograph not included.]
There was truth in these assertions. Stewards had taken advantage of relaxed regulations. flocking into the Regular Navy during the first months of the changeover program. Many did so because they had many years invested in a naval career. Some may have wanted the training and experience to be gained from messman's service. In fact, some stewards enjoyed rewarding careers in restaurants club, and hotel work after retirement. More surprising, considering the numerous complaints about the branch from civil rights groups, the Steward's Branch consistently reported the highest reenlistment rate in the Navy. Understandably, the Navy constantly reiterated these statistics. Actually, the stewards themselves were a major stumbling block to reform of the branch. Few of the senior men aspired to other ratings; many were reluctant to relinquish what they saw as the advantages of the messman's life. Whatever its drawbacks, messman's duty proved to be a popular assignment.20
The Navy's defense was logical, but not too convincing. Technically the Steward's Branch was open to all, but in practice it remained strictly nonwhite. Civil rights activists could point to the fact that there were six times as many illiterate whites as Negroes in the wartime Navy, yet none of these whites were ever assigned to the Steward's Branch and none transferred to that branch of the Regular Navy after the war.21 Moreover, shortly after the war the Bureau of Naval Personnel predicted a 7,577-man shortage in the Steward's Branch, but the Navy made no attempt to fill the places with white sailors. Instead, it opened the branch to Filipinos and Guamanians, recruiting 3, 500 of the islanders before the program was stopped on 4 July 1946, the date of Philippine independence. Some Navy recruiters found other ways to fill steward quotas. The Urban League and others reported cases in which black volunteers were rejected by recruiters for any assignment but steward duty.22 Nor did civil rights spokesmen appreciate the distinction in petty officer rank the Navy made between the steward and other sailors; they continued to interpret it as part and parcel of the "injustices, lack of respect and the disregard for the privileges accorded rated men in other branches of the service."23 They also resented the paternalism implicit in the secretary's assurances that messman's duty was a haven for men unable to compete.
Some individuals in the department were aware of this resentment in the black community and pushed for reform in the Steward's Branch. The Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Air, John Nicholas Brown, wanted more publicity given both in and outside the service to the fact that the branch was not restricted to any one race and, conversely, that Negroes were welcome in general service. 24 In view of the strong tradition of racial separateness in the stewards rating, such publicity might be considered sheer sophistry, but more so than the suggestion made by a senior personnel official that the Commissary Branch and Steward's Branch be combined to achieve a racially balanced specialty.25 Lester Granger, now outside the official Navy family but still intimately concerned with the department's racial affairs, also pleaded for a merger of the commissary and steward functions. He reasoned that, since members of the Commissary Branch could advance to true petty officer rating, such a merger would provide a new avenue of advancement for stewards.
But more to the point Granger also pushed for reform in the standards of Steward's Branch. He recognized that educational and other requirements had been lowered for stewards, but, he told Forrestal's successor, Secretary John Sullivan, there was little wisdom in "compounding past error." He also pointed out that not all messmen were in the lower intelligence classifications and recommended that the higher scoring men be replaced with low-scoring whites.26
From within the Navy itself Lt. Dennis D. Nelson, one of the first twelve Negroes commissioned and still on active duty, added his voice to the demand for reform of the Steward's Branch. An analogy may be drawn between the Navy career of Nelson and that of the legendary Christopher Sargent. Lacking Sargent's advantages of wealth and family connection, Nelson nevertheless became a familiar of Secretary Sullivan's and, though not primarily assigned to the task, made equal opportunity his preeminent concern. A highly visible member of the Navy's racial minority in Washington, he made himself spokesman, pressing senior officials to bring the department's manpower practices closer to its stated policy. Once again the Navy experienced the curious phenomenon of a lieutenant firing off memos and letters to senior admirals and buttonholing the Secretary of the Navy.27
Nelson had a host of suggestions for the Steward's Branch: eliminate the branch as a racially separate division of labor in the Navy, provide permanent officer supervision for all steward units, develop capable noncommissioned officers in the branch with privileges and responsibilities similar to those of other petty officers, indoctrinate all personnel in the ramifications of the Navy's stated' integration policy, and create a committee to work out the details of the changes. On several occasions Nelson tried to show his superiors how nuances in their own behavior toward the stewards reinforced, perhaps as much as separate service itself, the image of discrimination. He recommended that the steward's uniform be changed, eliminating the white jacket and giving the steward a regular seaman's look. He also suggested that petty officer uniforms for stewards be regularized. At one poignant moment this lonely officer took on the whole service, trying to change singlehandedly a thoughtless habit that demeaned both blacks and whites. He admonished the service: "refrain from the use of 'Boy' in addressing Stewards. This has been a constant practice in the Service and is most objectionable, is in bad taste, shows undue familiarity and pins a badge of inferiority, adding little to the dignity and pride of adults."28
In summing up these recommendations for the Secretary of the Navy in January 1949, Nelson reminded Sullivan that only 37 percent of the Navy's Negroes were in the general service, in contrast to 72 percent of the Negroes in the MarineCorps. He warned that this imbalance perturbed the members of the recently convened National Defense Conference on Negro Affairs and predicted it would interest those involved in the forthcoming presidential inquiry on equality in-the armed forces.29
Despite its continued defense of the status quo in the Steward's Branch, the Bureau of Naval Personnel was not insensitive to criticism. To protect Negroes from overzealous recruiters for the branch, the bureau had announced in October 1945 that any Negro in the general service desiring transfer to the Steward's Branch had to make his request in writing.30 In mid-l946 it closed the branch to first enlistment, thereby abolishing possible abuses in the recruiting system.31 Later in the year the bureau tried to upgrade the quality of the branch by instituting a new and more rigorous training course for second- and third class stewards and cooks at Bainbridge, Maryland. Finally, in June 1947 it removed from its personnel manual all remaining mention of restrictions on the transfer of messmen to the general service. 32 These changes were important, but they failed to attack racial separation, the major problem of the branch. Thus the controversy over messmen, in which tradition, prejudice, and necessity contended, went on, and the Steward's Branch, a symbol of discrimination in the Navy, remained to trouble both the service and the civil rights groups for some time.
The Navy had a racial problem of more immediate concern to men like Lieutenant Nelson, one of three black officers remaining on active duty. These were the survivors of a most exclusive group that had begun its existence with much hope. In the months following graduation of the first twelve black officers and one warrant officer in March 1944, scores of Negroes had passed through the Navy's training school. By the end of the war the V-12 program had thirty-six black candidates, with three others attending the Supply Corps School at Harvard. The number of black officers had grown at an agonizingly slow rate, although in June 1944 the Secretary of the Navy approved a personnel bureau request that in effect removed any numerical quotas for black officers. Unfortunately, black officers were still limited to filling "needs as they appeared," and the need for black officers was curtailed by the restricted range of activities open to them in the segregated wartime service. Further most nominees for commissions were selected from the ranks and depended on thee sponsorship of their commanding officer who might not be able to spare a competent enlisted man who deserved promotion. Putting the matter in the best possible light, one Navy historian blamed the dearth of black officers on bureaucratic inertia 33
COMMANDER NELSON [Photograph not included.]
Despite procurement failures and within the limitations of general segregation policy, the Navy treated black officers with scrupulous fairness during the war. The Bureau of Naval Personnel insisted they be given the privileges of rank in wardroom and ashore, thus crushing an attempt by authorities at Great Lakes to underwrite a tacit ban on the use of the officers' club by Negroes. In fact, integration proved to be more the rule than the exception in training black offleers. The small number of black candidates made segregated classes impractical, and after graduation of the first group of black officers at Great Lakes, Negroes were accepted in all officer candidate classes. As part of this change, the Special Programs Unit successfully integrated the Navy's officer candidate school in the posh hotels of still-segregated Miami Beach.
The officers graduated into a number of assignments. Some saw duty aboard district and yard craft, others at departmental headquarters in Washington. A few served in recruit training assignments at Great Lakes and Hampton Institute, but the majority went overseas to work in logistical and advanced base companies, the stevedore-type outfits composed exclusively of Negroes. Nelson, for example, was sent to the Marshall Islands where he was assigned to a logistic support company composed of some three hundred black sailors and noncommissioned officers with a racially mixed group of officers. Black staff officers, engineers, doctors, dentists, and chaplains were also attached to these units, where they had limited responsibilities and little chance for advancement. 34
Exceptions to the assignment rule increased during the last months of the war. The Special Programs Unit had concluded that restricting black officers to district craft and shore billets might further encourage the tendency to build an inshore black Navy, and the Bureau of Naval Personnel began assigning black officers to seagoing vessels when they completed their sea duty training. By July 1945 several were serving in the fleet to avoid embarrassment, the Chief of Naval Personnel made it a practice to alert the commanding officers of a ship about to receive a black officer so that he might indoctrinate his officers. As his assistant. Rear Adm. William M Fechteler, explained to one such commander "if such officers are accorded the proper respect and are required to discharge the duties commensurate with their rank they should be equally competent to white officers of similar experience."35
Fechteler's prediction proved accurate. By V-J day, the Navy's black officers, both line and staff, were serving competently in many occupations. The bureau reported that the "personnel relationship aspect" of their introduction into the service had worked well. Black officers with white petty officers and enlisted men under them handled their command responsibilities without difficulty, and in general bureau reports and field inspections noted considerable satisfaction with their performance 36 But despite this satisfactory record, only three black officers remained on active duty in 1946 The promise engendered by the Navy's treatment of its black officers in the closing months of the war had not been fulfilled during the demobilization period that followed, and what had been to the civil rights movement a brightening situation rapidly became an intolerable one.
There were several reasons for the rapid demobilization of black officers Some shared the popular desire of reserve officers to return to civilian life Among them were mature men with substantial academic achievements and valuable technical experience Many resented in particular their assignment to all-black labor units, and wanted to resume their civilian careers.37 But a number of black officers, along with over 29,000 white reservists, did seek commissions in the Regular Navy.38 Yet not one Negro was granted a regular commission in the first eighteen months after the war Lester Granger was especially upset by these statistics, and in July 1946 he personally took up the case of two black candidates with Secretary Forrestal. 39
The Bureau of Naval Personnel offered what it considered a reasonable explanation. As a group, black reserve officers were considerably overage for their rank and were thus at a severe disadvantage in the fierce competition for regular commissions. The average age of the first class of black officers was over thirty-one years. All had been commissioned ensigns on 17 March 1944, and all had received one promotion to lieutenant, junior grade, by the end of the war. When age and rank did coincide, black reservists were considered for transfer. For example, on 15 March 1947 Ens. John Lee, a former V-12 graduate assigned as gunnery officer aboard a fleet auxiliary craft, received a regular commission and on 6 January 1948 Lt.(jg.) Edith DeVoe, one of the four black nurses commissioned in March 1945, was transferred into the Regular Navy. The following October Ens. Jessie Brown was commissioned and assigned to duty the first black Navy pilot.
In a sense, the black officers had the cards stacked against them. As Nelson later explained, the bureau did not extend to Its black line officers the same consideration given other reservists. While the first twelve black officers were given unrestricted line officer training, the bureau assigned them to restrict line positions, an added handicap when it came to promotions and retention the postwar Navy. All were commissioned ensigns, although the bureau usually granted rank according to the candidate's age, a practice followed when commissioned its first black staff officers, one of whom became a full lieutenant and the rest lieutenants, junior grade. As an overage reservist himself, Nelson remained on active duty after the war through the personal intervention of Secretary Forrestal. His tour in the Navy's public relations office was repeatedly extended until finally on 1 January 1950, thanks to Secretary Sullivan, he received a regular commission.40
Prospects for an increase in black officers were dim. With rare exception the Navy's officers came from the academy at Annapolis, the officer candidate program, or the Naval Reserve Officers' Training Corps (NROTC) program. Ens. Wesley A. Brown would graduate in the academy's class of 1949, the sixth Negro to attend and the first to graduate in the academy's 104-year history. Only five other Negroes were enrolled in the academy's student body in 1949 and there was little indication that this number would rapidly increase. For the most part the situation was beyond the control of the Bureau of Naval Personnel. Competition was keen for acceptance at Annapolis. The American Civil Liberties Union later asserted that the exclusion of Negroes from many of the private prep schools, which so often produced successful academy applicants, helped explain why there were so few Negroes at the academy. 41
Nor were many black officers forthcoming from the Navy's two other sources. Officer candidate schools, severely reduced in size after the war and a negligible source of career officers, had no Negroes in attendance from 1946 through 1948. Perhaps most disturbing was the fact that in 1947 just fourteen Negroes were enrolled among more than 5,600 students in the NROTC program, the usual avenue to a Regular Navy commission. 42 The Holloway program, the basis for the Navy's reserve officer training system, offered scholarships at fifty-two colleges across the nation, but the number of these scholarships was small, the competition intense, and black applicants, often burdened by inferior schooling, did not fare well.
Statistics pointed at least to the possibility that racial discrimination existed in the NROTC system. Unlike the Army and Air Force programs, reserve officer training in the Navy depended to a great extent on state selection committees dominated by civilians. These committees exercised considerable leeway in selecting candidates to fill their state's annual NROTC quota, and their decisions were final. Not one Negro served on any of the state committees. In fact, fourteen of the fifty-two colleges selected for reserve officer training barred Negroes from admission by law and others—the exact number is difficult to ascertain—by policy. One black newspaper charged that only thirteen of the participating institutions admitted Negroes.43 In all, only six black candidates survived this process to win commissions in 1948.
Lester Granger blamed the lack of black candidates on the fact that so few Negroes attended the schools; undoubtedly, more Negroes would have been enrolled reserve officer training had the program been established at one of the predominantly black colleges. But black institutions were excluded from the wartime V-12 program, and when the program was extended to include fifty-two colleges in November 1945 the Navy again rejected the applications of black schools, justifying the exclusion, as it did for many white schools, on grounds of inadequacies in enrollment, academic credentials, and physical facilities.44 Some black spokesmen called the decision discriminatory. President Mordecai Johnson of Howard University ruefully wondered how the Navy's unprejudiced and nondiscriminatory selection of fifty-two colleges managed to exclude so neatly all black institutions.45
Others disagreed. From the first the Special Programs Unit had rejected the clamor for forming V- 12 units in predominantly black colleges, arguing that in the long run this could be considered enforced segregation and hardly contribute to racial harmony. Although candidates were supposed to attend the NROTC school of their choice, black candidates were restricted to institutions that would accept them. If a black school was added to the program, all black candidates would very likely gravitate toward it. Several black spokesmen, including Nelson, took this attitude and urged instead a campaign to increase the number of Negroes at the various integrated schools in the NROTC system.46 Whatever the best solution, a significant and speedy increase in the number of black officers was unlikely.
Of lesser moment because of the small size of the WAVES and the Nurse Corps, the role of black women in the postwar Navy nevertheless concerned several civil rights leaders. Roy Wilkins, for one, concluded that the Navy's new policy Rich "hasn't worked out on the officer level . . . hadn't worked on the women's level" either.47 The Navy's statistics seemed to proved his contention. The service had 68 black enlisted women and 6 officers (including 4 nurses) on V-J day; a year later the number had been reduced to 5 black WAVES and 1 nurse. The Navy sought to defend these statistics against charges of discrimination. A spokesman explained that the paucity of black WAVES resulted from the fact that Negroes were barred from the WAVES until December 1944, just months before the Navy stopped recruiting all WAVES. Black WAVES who had remained in the postwar Navy had been integrated and were being employed without discrimination. 48
But criticism persisted. In February 1948 the Navy could count six black WAVES out of a total enlisted force of 1,700, and during hearings on a bill to regularize the women's services several congressmen joined with a representative of the NAACP to press for a specific antidiscrimination amendment. The amendment was defeated, but not before Congressman Adam Clayton Powell charged that the status of black women in the Navy proved discrimination and demonstrated that the administration was practicing "not merely discrimination, segregation, and Jim Crowism, but total exclusion."49 The same critics also demanded a similar amendment to the companion legislation on the WAC's, but it, too, was defeated.
Black nurses presented a different problem. Two of the wartime nurses had resigned to marry and the third was on inactive status attending college. The Navy, Secretary Forrestal claimed in July 1947, was finding it difficult to replace them or add to their number. Observing that black leaders had shown considerable interest in the Navy's nursing program, Forrestal noted that a similar interest had not been forthcoming from black women themselves. During the Navy's 1946 recruitment drive to attract 1,000 new nurses, only one Negro applied, and she was disqualified on physical grounds.50
Individual black nurses no doubt had cogent reasons for failing to apply for Navy commissions, but the fact that only one applied called attention to a phenomenon that first appeared about 1946. Black Americans were beginning to Ignore the Navy. Attempts by black reserve officers to procure NROTC applicants in black high schools and colleges proved largely unproductive. Nelson spoke before 8,500 potential candidates in 1948, and a special recruiting team reached an equal number the following year, but the combined effort brought fewer then ninety black applicants to take the competitive examination.51
Recruiters had similar problems in the enlistment of Negroes for general service. Viewed from a different perspective, even the complaints and demands of black citizens, at flood tide during the war, now merely trickled into the secretary's office, reflecting, it could be argued, a growing indifference. That such unwillingness to enlist, as Lester Granger put it, should occur on the heels of a widely publicized promise of racial equality in the service was ironic. The Navy was beginning to welcome the Negro, but the Negro no longer seemed interested in joining. 52
NAVAL UNIT PASSES IN REVIEW, Naval Advanced
Base, Bremerhaven, Germany,
1949. [Photograph not included.]
Several reasons were suggested for this attitude. Assistant Secretary Brown placed the blame, at least in part, on the gap between policy and practice. Because of delay in abolishing old discriminatory practices, he pointed out to the Deputy Chief of Naval Operations, "the Navy's good public relations are endangered."53 The personnel bureau promptly investigated, found justification for complaints of discrimination, and took corrective action.54 Yet, as Nelson pointed out, such corrections, often in the form of "clarifying directives," were usually directed to specific commanders and tied to specific incidents and were ignored by other commanders as inapplicable to their own racial experiences.55 Despite the existence of the racially separate Stewards Branch, the Navy's policy seemed so unassailable to the Chief of Naval Personnel that when his views on a congressional measure to abolish segregation in the services were solicited he reported without reservation that his bureau interposed no objection.56
The Navy's major racial problem by 1948 was the shockingly small number of Negroes in the service. In November 1948, a presidential election month, Negroes accounted for 4.3 percent of the navy's strength. Not only were there few Negroes in the Navy, but there were especially too few in the general service and Practically no black officers, a series of statistics that made the predominately black and separate stewards more conspicuous. The Navy rejected an obvious solution, lowering recruitment standards, contending that it could not run its ships and aircraft with men who scored below ninety in the general classification test.57 The alternative was to recruit among the increasing numbers of educated Negroes, as the personnel bureau had been trying to do. But here, as Nelson and others could report, the Navy faced severe competition from other employers, and here the Navy's public image had its strongest effect.
Lt. Comdr. Edward Hope, a black reserve officer assigned to officer procurement, concluded that the black community, especially veterans, distrusted all the services. Consequently, Negroes tended to disregard announced plans and policies applicable to all citizens unless they were specially labeled "for colored." Negroes tried to avoid the humiliation of applying for certain rights or benefits only to be arbitrarily rejected.58 Compounding the suspicion and fear of humiliation, Hope reported, was a genuine lack of information on Navy policy that seriously limited the number of black applicants.
The cause of confusion among black students over Navy policy was easy to pinpoint, for memories of the frustrations and insults suffered by black seamen during the war were still fresh. Negroes remembered the labor battalions bossed by whites—much like the old plantation system, Lester Granger observed. Unlike the Army, the Navy had offered few black enlisted men the chance of serving in vital jobs under black commanders. This slight, according to Granger, robbed the black sailor of pride in service, a pride that could hardly be restored by the postwar image of the black sailor not as a fighting man but as a servant or laborer. Always a loyal member of the Navy team, Granger was anxious to improve the Navy's public image in the black community, and he and others often advanced plans for doing so.59 But any discussion of image quickly foundered on one point: the Navy would remain suspect in the eyes of black youth and b condemned by civil rights leaders as long as it retained that symbol of racism, the racially separate Steward's Branch.
SUBMARINER [Photograph not included.]
Here the practical need for change ran headlong into strong military tradition. An integrated general service was traditional and therefore acceptable; an integrated servants' branch was not. Faced with the choice of a small number of Negroes in the Navy and the attendant charges of racism or a change in its traditions, the Navy accepted the former. Lack of interest on the part of the black community was not a particularly pressing problem for the Navy in the immediate postwar years. Indeed, it might well have been a source of comfort for the military traditionalists who, armed with an unassailable integration policy, could still enjoy a Navy little changed from its prewar condition. Nevertheless the lack of black volunteers for general service was soon to be discussed by a presidential commission, and in the next fifteen years would become a pressing problem when the Navy, the first service with a policy of integration, would fine itself running behind in the race to attract minority members.
1Interv, Lee Nichols with Marx Leva. 1953, in Nichols Collection, CMH.
2On the survival of traditional attitudes in the Navy, see Karsten. Naval Aristocracy, ch. v; Waldo H. Heinricks, Jr.. "The Role of the U.S. Navy, " in Dorothy Borg and Shumpei Okamoto, eds., Pearl Harbor as History (New York: Columbia University Press. 1973); David Rosenberg, "Arleigh Burke and Officer Development in the Inter-war Navy,'' Pacific Histoncal Review 44 (November 1975).
3Edward M. Coffman, The Hilt of the Sword (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press. 1966), p. 245.
4Quoted in Marriner S. Eccles, Beckoning Frontiers: Public and Personal Recollections, ed. Sidney Hyman (New York: Knopf. 1951), p. 336.
5The influence of tradition on naval racial practices was raised during the hearings of the President's Committee on Equality of Treatment and Opportunity in the Armed Services, 13 January 1949, pages 105-08, 111-12
6SecNav (Josephus Daniels) General Order 90, 1 Jul 14. Alcohol had been outlawed for enlisted men at sea by Secretary John D. Long more than a decade earlier. The 1914 prohibition rule infuriated the officers. One predicted that the ruling would push officers into "the use of cocaine and other dangerous drugs." Quoted in Ronald Spector, Admiral of the New Empire (Baton Rouge: University of Louisiana Press, 1974), pp. 191-92.
7Unless otherwise noted the statistical information used in this section was supplied by the Office, Assistant Chief for Management Information, BuPers. See also BuPers, "Enlisted strength—U.S. Navy," 26 Jul 46, Pers 215-BL, copy in CMH.
8Ltr, SecNav to Harvard Chapter, AVC, 26 Aug 46, P16-3 MM, GenRecsNav.
9Interv, Nichols with Secretary John L. Sullivan. Dec 52, in Nichols Collection, CMH. Sullivan succeeded James Forresral as secretary on 18 September 1947.
10The BuPers Progress Report (Pers 215), the major statistical publication of the department, rerminared its statistical breakdown by race in March 1946. The Navy's racial affairs office was closed in June 1946. See BuPers, "Narrative of Bureau of Naval Personnel, 1 September 1945 to 1 October 1946" (hereafter "BuPers Narrative "), 1: 73 .
11Ibid, p. 143; Selective Service System, Special Groups (Monograph 10), 2:200. Between September 1945 and May 1946 the Navy drafted 20,062 men, including 3,394 Negroes.
12''BuPersNarrative,'' 1:141. 192; See also BuPersCir Ltr 41-46, 15Feb46.
13See Ltr. Chief, NavPers. to CO. Naval Barracks. NAD, Seal Beach, Calif., 8 Oct 45. sub: Eligibility of Negroes for Enlistment in USN, P16 MM, BuPersRecs; Recruiting Dir, BuPers, Directive to Recruiting Officers. 25 Jan 46, quoted in Nelson, "Integration of the Negro," p. 58.
14BuPers. "Enlisted Strength—U.S. Navy," 26 Ju1 46, Pers 215-BL.
15Memo, Dir of Planning and Control, BuPers, for Chief, NavPers (ca. Jan 46), sub: Negro Personnel, Pers 21 B. BuPersRecs.
16BuPers, Memo on Discrimination of the Negro, 24 Jan 59, filed in BuPers Technical Library.
17Memo, Lt Dennis D. Nelson for Dep Dir, Pub Relations, 26 Mar 48, sub: Problems of the Stewards' Branch, PR 221-5393. GenRecsNav. On mental standards for stewards, see BuPers Circular 41-4G, 15 Feb 46.
Under SecNav for Congressman Clyde Doyle of California, 24 Aug 49m MM (1
19For examples of the Navy's official explanation of steward duties, see Ltr, Actg SecNav to Lester Granger, 22 Apr 46, QN/MM(2), and Ltr, Under SecNav to Congressman Clyde Doyle of California, 24 Aug 49; both in GenRecsNav. See also Ltr, Chief, NavPers, to Dr. Carl Yaeger, 16 Oct 47, P16-1, BuPersRecs, and Testimony of Capt Fred R. Stickney, BuPers, and Vice Adm William M. Fechreler, Chief of Naval Personnel, Before the President's Committee on Equality of Treatment and Opportunity in the Armed Services (Fahy Cmte), 13 Jan and 28 Mar 49.
20Ltr, Nelson to author, 10 Feb 70.
21Ltr, Dir, Plans and Oper Div, BuPers, to Richard Lucking. Berea College, 6 Dec 46, Pl6.1, BuPersRecs.
22Department of National Defense, "National Defense Conference on Racial Affairs," 26 Apr 48, morning session, pp. 46 - 47.
23Memo, Lt D. D. Nelson, office of Public Relations, for Capt E. B. Dexter, Office of Public Relations, 24 Aug 48, sub: Negro Stewards, Petty Officer Ratings. Status of, PR 221- 14003, GenRecsNav.
24Ltr, Asst SecNav to Lester Granger, 22 Apr 48, QN-MM (2), GenRecsNav.
25Interv, Nichols with Capt George A. Holderness, Jr., USN, in Nichols Collection, CMH.
26Ltr, Granger to SecNav, 15 Mar 48, SO-3-18-56, SecNav files, GenRecsNav.
27Interv, Nichols with Sullivan; Intervs, author with Lt Cmdr D. D. Nelson, 17 Sep 69, and with James C. Evans, Counselor to the SecDef, 10 Jan 73; Ltr, Nelson to author, 10 Feb 70. All in CMH files.
28Memo, Lt Nelson for Capt Dexter, Pub Rels Office, 24 Aug 48, sub: Negro Stewards, Petty Officer Ratings, Status of, PR 221-14003; idem for Dep Dir, Off of Pub Relations. 26 Mar 48 sub: Problems of the Stewards' Branch, PR 221-5393; both in GenRecsNav. The quotation is from the latter document
29Ltr, Nelson to SecNav, 7 Jan 49, SecNav files, GenRecsNav. For discussion of the presidential inquiry, see Chapter 14
30BuPers Cir Err. 17 Oct 45.
31Tesrimony of Capt Fred Stickney at National Defense Conference on Negro Affairs, 26 Apr 48, morning session, p. 47.
32Change 12 to Article D-5114, BuPers Manual, 1942.
33"BuPers Hist.'' pp. 83-85, and Supplement (LN) pp. 4-8, copy in CMH. Unless otherwise noted the data for this section on black officers in World War II are from this source.
34Nelson. ''Integration of the Negro '' pp. 156-58.
35"BuPersHist." p. 85. The quotation is from Ltr. Chief, NavPers, to CO, USS Laramie 16 Jul 45
36"BuPersHist." p. 85.
37Nelson "Integration of the Negro," p. 157.
38ALNAV 252-46. 21 May 46, sub: Transfer to Regular Navy.
39Ltr, Granger to SecNav, 31 Jul 46, 54-1-13, Forrestal file. GenRecsNav.One of these applicants was Nelson, then a lieutenant, who received a promotion upon assignment as commanding officer of a logistic support company in the Marshall Islands. The grade became permanent upon Nelson's assignment to the Public Relations Bureau in Washington in 1946.
40Nelson, "Integration of the Negro." pp 157-59; Ltr, Nelson to author, 10 Feb 70; Interv Nichols with Sullivan.
41Ltr Exec Dir, ACLU, to SecNav, 2G Nov 57, GenRecsNav.
43Norfolk Journaiand Guide, August 20. 1949.
44Ltr, SecNav to William T. Farley, Chmn, Civilian Components Policy Bd. DOD, 4 Mar 50. Q4. GenRecsNav.
45Statement of Dr. Mordecai Johnson at National Defense Conference on Negro Affairs, 26 Apt 48, morning session, p. 42.
46Ltr, Nelson to author, 10 Feb 70; see also "BuPers Hist,'' p. 84.
47Statement of Roy Wilkins at National Defense Conference on Negro Affairs, 26 Apr 48, morning session p. 44.
48Testimony of Stickney at National Defense Conference on Negro Affairs, 26 Apr 48. morning session, p. 43.
49U.S. Congress. House, Committee on Armed Services, Subcommittee No. 3, Organization and Mobilization, Hearings on S. 1641, To Establish the Women's Army Corps in the Regular Army, To Authorize the Enlistment and Appointment of Women In the Regular Navy and Marine Corps and the Naval and Marine Corps Reserve and for Other Purposes, 80th Cong., 2d sess., 18 Feb 48, pp . 5603-08, 5657, 56988, 5734-36. The Powell quotation is on page 5734.
50Ltr, SecNav to Congresswoman Margaret Chase Smith (Maine), 24 Jul 47, OG/P14-2, GenRecsNav.
51Memo, Dir, Pol Div. BuPers, for Capt William C. Chapman, Office of Information, Navy Dept, 21 Sep 65; Memo. Chief, NavPers, for Chief, Bur of Public Relations, 16 Dec 48, QR4; both in BuPersRecs.
52See Testimony of Lester Granger and Assistant Secretary Brown at National Defense Conference on Negro Affairs, 26 Apr 48, morning session, pp. 45-46; and Memo, Nelson for Marx Leva, 24 May 48, copy in Nelson Archives.
53Memo, Asst SecNav for Air for Dep CNO, 3 Feb 48, sub: Racial Discrimination, P1-4 (8), GenRecsNav.
54See Memo, Chief, NavPers, for CO, USS Grand Canyon (AD 28), 17 Dec 48, sub: Navy Deparment's Non Discrimination Policy—Alleged Violation of, P14; Ltr, Chief. NavPers, to Cmdt, Twelfth Nav Dist, 27 Feb 46, sub: Officer Screening Procedure and Indoctrination Course in the Supervision of Negro Personnel—Establishment of, Pers 4221; both in BuPersRecs.
55Memo, Nelson for Chief. NavPers, 29 Nov 48. sub: Complaint of Navy Enlisted Man Made to Pittsburgh Courier . . ., PR221. BuPersRecs.
56Memo, Chief, NavPers, for JAG, 11 Feb 47, sub:HR 279: To Prohibit Race Segregation in the Armed Forces of the United States, GenRecsNav.
57For discussion of the problem of comparative enlistment standards, see Chapter 12.
58Ltr, Lt Cmdr, E. S. Hope to SecDef, 17 May 48, with attached rpt. D54-l-l0, GenRecsNav.
for example, Ltr, Granger to SecNav, 10 Jun 47, S4-1-13, Forrestal file,
Granger's extensive comments and questions at the National Defense Conference on Negro Affairs, 26 Apr 48.