TOP ROW: John Walter Reagan, Jesse Walter Arbor, Dalton Louis Baugh, Frank Ellis Sublett
MIDDLE ROW: Graham Edward Martin, Charles Byrd Lear, Phillip George Barnes, Reginald E. Goodwin
BOTTOM ROW: James Edward Hair, Samuel Edward Barnes, George Clinton Cooper, William Sylvester White, Dennis Denmark Nelson
In January 1944, the naval officer corps was all white. There were some one hundred thousand African American enlisted men in the Navy, however, none were officers.
In response to growing pressure from American civil rights organizations, the leaders of the Navy reluctantly set about commissioning a few as officers.
Sixteen black enlisted men were summoned to Camp Robert Smalls, Great Lakes Training Station in Illinois. All had demonstrated top-notch leadership abilities as enlisted men. Seizing the moment, these young men worked as a team to complete their studies and, thereby, charted the course of equal opportunity in the Navy for all succeeding years. 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, thirteen of the group made history when they became the U.S. Navy's first African-American officers on active duty. Twelve were commissioned as ensigns; the thirteenth was made a warrant officer, and later proudly styled themselves "The Golden Thirteen."
They were often denied the privileges and respect routinely accorded white naval officers and were given menial assignments.
In World War II, they served with distinction on board Navy ships and shore stations until the end of the war.
Each surviving member can claim exceptional success in his chosen civilian profession, whether as an educator, businessman, lawyer, judge, or political leader. The Golden Thirteen continued to provide strong support for the Navy's recruitment and equal opportunity efforts throughout the intervening years. Only one of the Golden Thirteen made a career of the Navy, and he opened still more doors to black officers. The other members of the group made their marks in civilian life after World War II.
Today, the Navy salutes the thirteen black officers who were the cutting edge of equal opportunity progress. Their abilities, performance, courage, and tenacity made a difference and constitute worthy examples for all those who pass through the Recruit Processing Facility, named in their honor, to become sailors in the United States Navy.
You must be the change you wish to see in the world....Mahatma Gandhi.