Navy Celebrates 2016 African American/Black History Month

Adm. Michelle Howard, right, lends a hand to Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus as he and Wayne Cowles, Howard's husband, put four-star shoulder boards on Howard's service white uniform during her promotion ceremony. (U.S. Navy photo)

WASHINGTON — Throughout the month of February, the Navy joins our nation in celebrating the history and culture of African-American and Black Sailors during African-American/Black History Month.

Established in 1926, President Gerald R. Ford expanded the celebration in 1976 to include the entire month of February. This year, Navy commands are encouraged to celebrate and reflect on the theme "Hallowed Grounds: Sites of African American Memories."

"Our past is our history and our future is our destiny," said Victoria Bowens, Department of the Navy director for diversity and inclusion. "We must look at what worked, what did not work and how we can improve our efforts in promoting inclusion to optimize our results to achieve mission success."

From port cities where Africans disembarked from slave ships to the battle fields where their descendants fought for freedom, from the colleges and universities where they pursued education to places where they created communities during centuries of migration, the imprint of Americans of African descent is deeply embedded in the narrative of the American past.

USS Mason (DE 529), manned by a predominantly African American crew came under dire conditions during WWII in heavy weather when Mason's deck split, threatening the structural integrity of the ship. The crew made emergency repairs allowing the ship to continue its convoy operations. In 1994, President Clinton awarded commendations to the 67 surviving crew members.

USS PC 1264 was a submarine chaser built during World War II. She was one of only two U.S. Navy ships to have a predominately African-American enlisted complement during the war, the other being the Evarts-class destroyer escort USS Mason (DE 529). PC 1264 was in service for less than two years, but the performance of her crew—and of the USS Mason's—caused the U.S. Navy to reevaluate the role of African American Sailors. Legion of Merit, Bronze Star, Meritorious Service Medal and Navy Commendation Medal winner Vice Admiral Samuel L. Gravely served aboard the PC 1264 during the war, paving the way for future African American Navy leaders.

The USNS Carl Brashear (T-AKE 7) was named for Master Chief Boatswain's Mate Carl M. Brashear (1931-2006). Brashear's career spanned more than four decades and exemplifies outstanding service and dedication. Brashear enlisted in the Navy in February 1948 and qualified as a First Class Diver in 1964. In 1965, while recovering atomic bombs off the coast of Spain, Brashear sustained injuries which eventually required the amputation of his leg. Despite his injuries, he became recertified in March 1968 as a diver, the first amputee to serve as such in the Navy, and in 1970, Brashear became the first African-American master diver in the Navy.

In April 2009, Vice Adm. Michelle Howard commanded CTF-151, a multinational task force established to conduct counter-piracy operations in the Indian Ocean when the U.S.-flagged M/V Maersk Alabama container ship was hijacked by pirates off the Somali coast. Howard and twelve U.S. naval forces coordinated the rescue of the ship and its crew including Captain Richard Phillips, who had been kidnapped and held hostage in a lifeboat.

African-Americans continue to serve with distinction, now comprising almost 19 percent of our active duty enlisted force, 8 percent of our active duty officers and 5 percent of our flag officers. The Navy continues to do outreach toward African American youth in order to ensure a diverse pool of people and backgrounds comprises the best talent possible.

Sailors and their commands are encouraged to use this month to celebrate and recognize the exceptional and distinctive contributions and the unique histories and cultures that our African-American shipmates bring to our Navy.

More information on the many milestones achieved by black Sailors and the history of the African-American Navy experience can be found at the Naval History and Heritage Command at

A complete educational presentation, including a downloadable educational poster on African American/Black History month, can be requested from the Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute (DEOMI) by email at

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