Military

SS Leonard Roy Harom

USS Harmon

USS Harmon

First warship named for a black person, the SS Leonard Roy Harom, launched in Quincy Mass, 1943.

USS Harmon, a 1400-ton Buckley class destroyer escort, was built at Quincy, Massachusetts. Commissioned in August 1943, she conducted her shakedown in the western Atlantic and was then assigned to the southwest Pacific area for escort duties with the Third and Seventh Fleets. As war fronts moved northward, Harmon participated in the January 1945 landings at Lingayen Gulf, Leyte. In March, she operated off Iwo Jima.

Beginning in mid-1945, in preparation for further invasion services, Harmon was modified to increase her gun firepower. World War II ended while this work was being done, and, upon completion of the overhaul, the ship was assigned to training duties in the Pacific and the Atlantic. Decommissioned in March 1947, Harmon remained inactive until she was sold for scrapping in January 1967.

USS Harmon was named in honor of Mess Attendant First Class Leonard Roy Harmon, a hero of the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal.

Enlistment of Slaves as Union Sailors

Civil War sailor George Commodore. (NARA, Records of the Veterans Administration, RG 15)

The Secretary of the Navy Authorized enlistment of slaves as Union sailors,  September 25, 1861

The Union Navy began to employ African American men on board ships as crew members and sailors very early in the war. And as the war progressed, blockading squadrons and naval vessels also took on board numerous “contraband” slaves who managed to escape from land to sea.

By 1863, the Union navy was enlisting and actively recruiting runaway slaves as crewmembers or paid sailors, usually at the low rank of “landsman.” By the end of the war nearly 20,000 black sailors had enlisted, a figure which represented nearly 20 percent of the navy’s enlisted men. The majority of these black sailors were men who had been enslaved but seized naval service as a route to freedom.  Continue reading

Clifford Alexander Jr.

Cliffors Alexander Jr. first African American Secretary of the Army

Clifford Alexander Jr. was born and raised in Harlem prior to his education at Fieldstone Ethical Culture, Harvard (1955) and Yale Law School (1958). Early influences were his mother and father. Edith served as the Deputy Director then Executive Director of the Mayor’s Committee on Unity under NYC Mayor LaGuardia. The Mayor’s Committee on Unity was the precursor to the NYC Commission on Human Rights and fought discrimination in employment practices, public accommodations, and housing.

His father was one of several Harlem community leaders who founded the Carver Bank in response to discriminatory lending practices and worked to integrate the Riverton Apartments while serving as its manager. Alexander joined the National Guard after Law School and began working as an attorney in New York. He was asked to come to Washington D.C. in 1963 to join the staff of the National Security Council in the Kennedy administration.  Continue reading

Robert Smalls

Robert Smalls

(b. April 5, 1839, Beaufort, S.C., U.S.–d. Feb. 22, 1915, Beaufort), Negro slave who became a naval hero for the Union in the American Civil War (1861-65) and went on to serve as a congressman from South Carolina during Reconstruction (1865-77).

The son of plantation slaves, Smalls was taken by his master in 1851 to Charleston, S.C., where he worked as a hotel waiter, hack driver, and rigger. Impressed into the Confederate Navy at the outbreak of the war, he was forced to serve as wheelman aboard the armed frigate “Planter.” On May 13, 1862, he and 12 other slaves seized control of the ship in Charleston harbour and succeeded in turning it over to a Union naval squadron blockading the city. This exploit brought Smalls great fame throughout the North. He continued to serve as a pilot on the “Planter” and became the ship’s captain in 1863.  Continue reading

Bernice Gaines Hughes

During World War II, Fort Des Moines served as a training center for the Women’s Army Corps.

One of the accomplished graduates of that training course was Bernice Gaines Hughes, the first black woman to become a Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Armed Forces.

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