'Black Admirals' exhibit is tribute to achievement

July 01, 1994|By Phil Greenfield | Phil Greenfield,Special to The Sun

In 1940, there were 4,000 blacks enlisted in the Navy, and most of them served food.

Times have changed. Today, there are 78,000 enlisted black men and women serving in every phase of naval operations and 3,100 black officers.

And, since 1971, when Samuel Gravely Jr., the first black ever to command a warship was elevated to the rank of admiral, 15 blacks have made it to the Navy's top ranks.

The Banneker-Douglass Museum in Annapolis is offering an exhibition that highlights the achievements of this extraordinary fraternity of 15.

"The Navy's Black Admirals," which includes framed pictures and biographies, packs a wallop far beyond its unpretentious size, especially on this Independence Day weekend.

It was organized by Cmdr. James Jackson Jr., a 1975 Naval Academy graduate, and his father, James Jackson Sr., a former Howard University professor.

It's hard to imagine that anyone who cares even a smidgen about our country, its Navy and black America's legacy of achievement would not feel ennobled by these displays, which began as Commander Jackson's homework assignments in high school and at the Naval Academy.

There's Vice Adm. Paul Reason, commander of surface forces of the Atlantic Fleet, former naval aide to President Jimmy Carter and the only black besides Samuel Gravely to achieve three-star rank in the Navy.

Walter Davis, naval aviator and former commanding officer of the aircraft carrier USS Ranger, is honored, as is Anthony Watson, the first black submariner to be promoted to rear admiral.

Harvard graduate Gerald Thomas, the first black Navy ROTC man to make admiral, interrupted his career in the surface fleet to serve as a Russian interpreter at the Defense Language Institute and earn a Ph.D. in diplomatic history from Yale.

Louis Williams, Benjamin Hacker, Wendell Johnson, Robert Toney, William Powell, Mark Gaston, Edward Moore, David Brewer and Lawrence Chambers achieved excellence in such areas as anti-submarine warfare, the surface fleet, aviation, electronics and the supply corps.

And there is Dr. Eugene Fussell, an orthopedic surgeon who became the first black Naval Reserve officer to make admiral.

"People sometimes look to the wrong role models," Commander Jackson says. "These are men who have really given something back to all of us. That's why I'm so glad the museum put this exhibit in the community for the community to see. This just doesn't belong in some admiral's hallway at the Pentagon."

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