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Golden Thirteen

The Golden Thirteen (unofficial)
The Golden Thirteen, photographed on 17 March 1944.
Active 1944 -
Country United States of America
Branch Navy

The Golden Thirteen were the thirteen African American enlisted men who became the first African American commissioned and warrant officers in the United States Navy.


  • History 1
  • Postwar 2
  • The Golden Thirteen's Legacy 3
  • See also 4
  • References 5
  • Additional reading 6
  • External links 7


Throughout the history of the United States until the end of World War I, the Navy had enlisted African Americans for general service, but they were barred from joining from 1919 to 1932. From 1893 onwards, African Americans could only join the Navy's Messman's and Steward's branches, which not only segregated African Americans from the rest of the Navy community, but also precluded them from becoming commissioned officers.[1]

In June 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the executive order (8802) that prohibited racial discrimination by any government agency.[2]

Responding to pressure from First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and Assistant Secretary of the Navy Adlai Stevenson, in January 1944, the Navy began an accelerated 2-month officer training course for 16 African-American enlisted men at Camp Robert Smalls, Recruit Training Center Great Lakes (now known as Great Lakes Naval Training Station), in Illinois. The class average at graduation was 3.89.

Although all sixteen members of the class passed the course, only twelve were commissioned in March 1944: William Sylvester White, and Dennis Denmark Nelson were commissioned as Ensigns; Charles Byrd Lear (b.1920-d.2006) was appointed as a Warrant Officer.

Because Navy policy prevented them from being assigned to combatant ships, early black officers wound up being detailed to run labor gangs ashore.


President Harry S. Truman officially desegregated the U.S. military in 1948. At the time of the Golden Thirteen's commissioning, there were approximately 100,000 African-American men serving in the United States Navy's enlisted ranks.

Frank Ellis Sublett, the last living member of the group died on September 27, 2006.[3]

The Golden Thirteen's Legacy

In 1987, the U.S. Navy reunited the seven living members to dedicate a building in their honor at Great Lakes Naval Recruit Training Command, Illinois. Today, Building 1405 at RTC Great Lakes, where recruits first arrive for basic training, is named "The Golden Thirteen" in honor of them.

In 2006, ground was broken on a World War II memorial in North Chicago, Illinois to honor the Golden Thirteen and Dorie Miller.

See also


  1. ^ "Freedom To Serve: Equality of Treatment and Opportunity in the Armed Services. A Report by The President's Committee". Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office. 1950. 
  2. ^ Danelo, 2005.
  3. ^ "Last of the "Golden 13" Dies". Navy News Wire Service. United States Navy. 

Additional reading

  • Stillwell, Paul (31 May 2003). The Golden Thirteen: Recollections of the First Black Naval Officers. Naval Institute Press.  

External links

  • Naval Historical Center
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