February 16, 1944: The Golden Thirteen began training.
This group was the 1st African-American Naval officer-training group in America.
In January of that year, the Naval officer corps was all white. Though there were some 100,000 African-American enlisted men in the Navy, none were officers. In response to growing pressure from American civil rights organizations, the leaders of the Navy reluctantly tackled commissioning a few as officers.
16 Black enlisted men were summoned to Camp Robert Smalls, Great Lakes Naval Training Station in Illinois; they included Jesse W. Arbor, Samuel Barnes, Philip Barnes, Dalton Baugh, George C. Cooper, Reginald Goodwin, James E. Hair, Graham E. Martin, Dennis Nelson, John W. Reagan, Frank E. Sublett Jr., William S. White, Charles Lear, Lewis Williams, J. B. Pinkney, and A. Alves. All the men had demonstrated excellent leadership abilities as enlisted men.
The pace was demanding and forced the sixteen men to band together so that all could succeed.
During their officer candidate training, they compiled a class average of 3.89, a record that has yet to be broken.
Although all passed the course, in March 1944, 13 of the group made history when they became the U.S. Navy’s 1st African-American commissioned and warrant officers on active duty. Twelve were commissioned as ensigns; the thirteenth was made a warrant officer. They became known as the Golden Thirteen.
Only one of the Golden Thirteen made a career of the Navy. The others made their marks in civilian life after World War II.