The Golden Thirteen: Recollections of the First Black Naval Officers

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Naval Institute Press, 2003 - History - 336 pages
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In January 1944 sixteen black enlisted men gathered at the Great Lakes Naval Training Station in Illinois to begin a cram course that would turn them into the U.S. Navy's first African-American officers on active duty. The men believed they could set back the course of racial justice if they failed and banded together so all would succeed. Despite the demanding pace, all sixteen passed the course. Twelve were commissioned as ensigns and a thirteenth was made a warrant officer. Years later these pioneers came to be known as the Golden Thirteen, but at the outset they were treated more as pariahs than pioneers. Often denied the privileges and respect routinely accorded white naval officers, they were given menial assignments unworthy of their abilities and training. Yet despite this discrimination, these inspirational young men broke new ground and opened the door for generations to come.

In 1986, oral historian Paul Stillwell began recording the memories of the eight surviving members of the Golden Thirteen. Later he interviewed three white officers who served with and supported the efforts of the men during World War II. This book collects the stories of those eleven men. Introduced by Colin L. Powell, they tell in dramatic fashion what it was like to be a black American.

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The Golden Thirteen: recollections of the first Black naval officers

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Stillwell, the editor of Naval History magazine, has compiled a fascinating collection of reminiscences focusing on the first black naval officers in America. The recollections include eight black ... Read full review

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Graham Martin was my Crispus Attucks High School Economics and Government teacher in my junior year of 1974. His matter of fact blend of life and history taught me the most fascinating lesson - as you live you become history. I really liked his class in economics so much that I made it my minor in college and through its use have become a little more comfortable than an Army Specialist Six might normally turn out to be. I went back to see Mr. Martin after I had been in the Army for a couple of years, he was still teaching at Attucks, but I understood more of what he'd gone through. Recently I met another of the Gentlemen here in the DC area during a training meeting of black GS 14 and 15 federal employees and was saddened to hear that Mr. Martin had gone on to Glory. Their work has been a spur to me applying gentle pressure then a "thorn in the side" to get that associates degree - then the bachelors - then the masters degree. Even now I feel a bit guilty that I haven't gone back for my PhD. Thinking on their accomplishments through the hardships they went through just makes me want to do more - perhaps my story will be a spur to some young man or young woman to go farther and work harder and be somebody!
The book is personal so it may be a bit shocking to see through the eyes of the men. It could easily be a great movie. The times were harsh and the work was literally made to wash them all out. But these thirteen endured.
 

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About the author (2003)

Paul Stillwell is an independent historian and retired naval officer. He worked for thirty years at the U.S. Naval Institute as an oral historian and editor of Naval History magazine. He is the author or editor of a dozen books, including four on battleships and an award-winning volume on the Navy's first African American officers, The Golden Thirteen.

Colin Powell was born on April 5, 1937 in New York City and attended both the City College of New York and George Washington University and also served in the Reserve Officers' Training Corps. Powell served in the Army during Vietnam as both a captain and a major and later became senior military assistant to the Secretary of Defense. He joined the National Security Council and took over the Army Forces Command when he was made a four-star general. President Bush nominated Powell for Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff, where he helped plan the invasion of Panama and assisted in Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. Powell retired from the military and recorded his memories in his book, My American Journey. In 2012 Powell published a book about his life experiences and lessons learned entitled, It Worked for Me.

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