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Vice Adm. Samuel Gravely Jr., pioneer for a race.

The thirteenth amendment to the Constitution was the first of many steps forward for African-Americans and their dream to establish a better life. From that point on, many sacrifices were made by pioneers such as Harriet Tubman, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Frederick Douglass, Malcolm X and an array of others.


Many of these men and women accomplished "firsts" as African-Americans; but their common denominator was in being the first to step outside of what was expected during adverse times throughout the history of the nation and stand up for what was morally right. Among these influential individuals was Vice Admiral Samuel L. Gravely Jr., the first African-American to reach the rank of admiral in the U.S. Navy.

On the brink of World War II, then-20-year-old Gravely decided to pre-empt the draft and joined the Navy in 1942. At that time the Navy was undergoing an experiment that allowed African-Americans to venture out of their typical roles as messmen and into other occupational fields previously only offered to non-black service members.

In response to the change Gravely, who was trained as a fireman apprentice took the opportunity to participate in the Navy Reserve Officer Training Course. Gravely, along with two other seamen who were white, passed an aptitude test beating out 120 applicants. In 1944 after completion of midshipmen school, Gravely became the first African American to be commissioned as an ensign through the Navy Reserve Officer Training Course.

In spite of his achievements, he was frustrated with the racism and discrimination so prevalent in the Navy. Seeing no room for advancement at the time Gravely felt it best to resign from his post after the war and continue with higher education in 1946. For the next two years Gravely focused his attentions on obtaining his baccalaureate degree in history.

That same year, in July 1948, then-President Harry S. Truman issued Executive Order 9981 to establish the President's Committee on Equality of Treatment and Opportunity in the Armed Services. This order committed the government to integrating the segregated military.

By April 1949, newly-appointed Defense Secretary Louis Johnson issued a policy affirming Truman's integration order. Under increasing pressure from Johnson, the Navy proposed a recruiting program to enlist African American Sailors. As a result, Gravely was recalled to active duty in 1950 and was assigned as a recruiter in the local African-American community in Washington, D.C.

According to his wife, Alma Gravely, "I think that he thought a lot about [the recruiting job]. I had the notion that in his own mind, he certainly did not want to be a recruiter the rest of his Navy career and he wasn't certain that it would take him any place further, but that was his job and he did it."

Gravely's naval service, like many other African-Americans in the military at the time, was controversial because of the continued racial discrimination, even after being allowed to enter into the officer ranks.

Following his service as a recruiter Gravely transferred to active duty and was promoted to commander of USS Falgout (DE 324) a destroyer escort. Gravely would go on to command USS Taussig (DD 746), USS Theodore E. Chandler (DD 717) and USS Jouett (CG 29), where he received his appointment to rear admiral.

"Vice Adm. Gravely was an inspiration, not only to African Americans, but to all naval officers aspiring to be the best that they can be," noted Vice Adm. Anthony Winns, Naval Inspector General.

Despite the adversity he faced, Gravely never let that stop him from assuming duties as a communications, electronics and personnel officer during his career. He believed all jobs were good jobs because they provided a chance to excel.

"He loved the Navy and he loved ships, he always said, 'Sailors belong on ships and ships belong at sea.' That was his motto," said his wife.

Throughout his 38 years of service to his country, Gravely had many historical "firsts" to include: being the first African-American to command an American warship and the first African-American to command a U.S fleet (U.S. 3rd Fleet).

"He opened our eyes to possibilities we had not dreamed of," said former Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Personnel Programs Charles Tompkins, who met Gravely during his time as a flight student. "The future was not crystal clear for African-Americans in the struggle we were trying to overcome."

To honor Gravely's tremendous contributions in service to country, the Navy will commission USS Gravely (DDG 107) on Nov. 20, 2010, in Wilmington, N.C.

Smith is assigned to Defense Media Activity, Washington, D.C.

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Title Annotation:History
Author:Smith, Mikelle
Publication:All Hands
Article Type:Brief biography
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 1, 2010
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