Today’s blog was written by Dr. Tina L. Ligon, Archivist and Kevin Bradley, Archives Technician at the National Archives at College Park, Maryland
In 1941, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) wrote a letter to President Franklin D. Roosevelt demanding that African Americans be used in roles other than messmen in the US military. The momentum of the NAACP and the black community forced President Roosevelt to deal with the issue of discrimination against African Americans in the Armed Services during World War I
I. Although, the US Navy was reluctant to admit African Americans, it decided under pressure, to allowed two of its vessels be manned by nearly all-black crews. RG 24 Logbooks of U. S. Navy Ships and Stations, 1941-1978 (NAID 594258) consist of chronological entries documenting the daily activities of a commissioned Navy ship, including the daily occurrences on board the USS Mason and PC-1264, which had mostly all-black crews.
The USS Mason (DE-529) was commissioned on March 20, 1944, with a crew of 150 African-American enlisted men and six officers. The vessel was part of the Evarts-class destroyer escort, with the responsibility of providing protection for other naval vessels in the Atlantic Ocean.
The USS Mason was involved in several convoys across the Atlantic Ocean during the war. A few of the escorts included journeys to Belfast, Ireland and Plymouth, England. On one particular convoy in the Atlantic, the USS Mason was damaged during a severe storm in 1944. The African-American crew repaired the ship and was able to continue with their voyage. These men did not received any letters of commendation for this act until 1994. Beginning on December 17, 1944, the USS Mason joined with the USS TF-64 on a tour to Oran, Algeria. Below are the deck log pages showing the activities during this journey.
The USS Mason was decommissioned on October 12, 1945 and sold for scrap.
The USS PC-1264 was commissioned on April 25, 1944, with 53 African-American crew members. It was a PC-461 class submarine chaser built for military engagement during World War II. The mission of this naval vessel was to destroy German U-boats off the East Coast of the U.S. Below of the deck log pages of the first day of the PC-1264.
With missions along the East Coast, the PC-1264 had to stop at various ports along the way. The vessel experienced some difficulty docking in southern ports due to racial discrimination and the Jim Crow culture. Despite these challenges, the mostly black crew of the PC-1264 completed many convoys from New York to Cuba or Key West. Below are the deck logs documenting one of the convoys.
During the course of the PC-1264, there were several white men in command of the submarine chaser. On May 2, 1945, Ensign Samuel L. Gravely, Jr. reported to duty on board the PC-1264. Although, the vessel was placed out of service, Gravely became the only African American to command the PC-1264. The PC-1264 was decommissioned on February 7, 1946 and is currently at the Whitte Brothers Marine Scrap Yard in New York. Below are the deck log pages signed by Gravely.
The performances of the USS Mason and PC-1264 forced the Navy to reevaluate its discriminatory policies towards African Americans. Both vessels received letters of commendations for their service during World War II.