Trailblazer: The U.S. Navy's First Black Admiral
A Navy pioneer, Vice Admiral Samuel Gravely was the first African American to be commissioned an officer in the U.S. Navy, the first to command a Navy ship, the first to command a fleet, and the first to become an admiral. Gravely was selected for that rank in 1971. Eventually he retired from active duty in 1980 as a vice admiral, after rising to command 100 warships and 60,000 Sailors and Marines while based at Pearl Harbor.
Throughout his career Vice Admiral Gravely served as a role model for thousands of black naval officers who came after him---compelling, given the fact that he had no such role model himself. In his memoir, co-written by the noted naval historian Paul Stillwell, Gravely describes his life from his boyhood in segregated Richmond, Virginia, through his enlisted service on a World War II submarine chaser, to later tours of duty at sea and ashore. Denied housing and even jailed for impersonating an officer at the beginning of his naval career, he was determined to overcome both cultural and institutional obstacles of racism to rise through the ranks.
The U.S. Navy commissioned the guided missile destroyer USS Gravely (DDG 107) in 2010 in tribute to a man who relished destroyer service and set an example for generations of Navy men and women.
"Vice Admiral Samuel L. Gravely's Trail-blazer recounts the life and career of the soft-spoken and modest man who succeeded in opening the flag-officer rank of the U.S. Navy to African Americans. He combined love for the service with respect for its traditions, and he understood that the key to success lay in seeking out the most challenging duty assignments and performing beyond expectation. By gaining the confidence of his white superior officers---many of whom he acknowledged as role models---he modeled how other African American officers could advance through the commissioned ranks, to the betterment of their careers and the naval service. This is a thoroughly captivating tale with great relevance to the present day." Joseph P. Reidy, Professor of History, Howard University
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