The following is Chapter Four of Morris J. MacGregor's study of the integration of the armed forces of the United States. Chapter Four covers the U.S. Marine Corps and Coast Guard during World War II.
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The racial policies of both the Marine Corps and the Coast Guard were substantially the same as the Navy policy from which they were derived, but all three differed markedly from each other in their practical application. The differences arose partly from the particular mission and size of these components of the wartime Navy, but they were also governed by the peculiar legal relationship that existed in time of war between the Navy and the other two services.
By law the Marine Corps was a component of the Department of the Navy, its commandant subordinate to the Secretary of the Navy in such matters as manpower and budget and to the Chief of Naval Operations in specified areas of military operations. In the conduct of ordinary business, however, the commandant was independent of the Navy's bureaus, including the Bureau of Naval Personnel. The Marine Corps had its own staff personnel officer, similar to the Army's G-1, and, more important for the development of racial policy, it had a Division of Plans and Policies that was immediately responsible to the commandant for manpower planning. In practical terms, the Marine Corps of World War II was subject to the dictates of the Secretary of the Navy for general policy, and the secretary's 1942 order to enlist Negroes applied equally to the Marine Corps, which had no Negroes in its ranks, and to the Navy, which did. At the same time, the letters and directives of the Chief of Naval Operations and the Chief of Naval Personnel implementing the secretary's order did not apply to the corps. In effect, the Navy Department imposed a racial policy on the corps, but left it to the commandant to carry out that policy as he saw fit. These legal distinctions would become more important as the Navy's racial policy evolved in the postwar period.
The Coast Guard's administrative position
had early in the war become roughly analogous to that of the Marine Corps.
At all times a branch of the armed forces, the Coast Guard was normally a
part of the Treasury Department. A statute of 1915, however, provided that
during wartime or "whenever the President may so direct" the Coast
Guard would operate as part of the Navy, subject to the orders of the
Secretary of the Navy.1 At the direction of the
President' the Coast Guard passed to the control of the Secretary of the
Navy on 1 November 1941 and so remained until 1 January 1946.2
At first a division under the Chief of Naval Operations, the headquarters of the Coast Guard was later granted considerably more administrative autonomy. In March 1942 Secretary Knox carefully delineated the Navy's control over the Coast Guard, making the Chief of Naval Operations responsible for the operation of those Coast Guard ships, planes, and stations assigned to the naval commands for the "proper conduct of the war," but specifying that assignments be made with "due regard for the needs of the Coast Guard," which must continue to carry out its regular functions. Such duties as providing port security, icebreaking services, and navigational aid remained under the direct control and supervision of the commandant, the local naval district commander exercising only "general military control" of these activities in his area.3 Important to the development of racial policy was the fact that the Coast Guard also retained administrative control of the recruitment, training, and assignment of personnel. Like the Marine Corps, it also had a staff agency for manpower planning, the Commandant's Advisory Board, and one for administration, the Personnel Division, independent of the Navy's bureaus.4 In theory, the Coast Guard's manpower policy, at least in regard to those segments of the service that operated directly under Navy control, had to be compatible with the racial directives of the Navy's Bureau of Naval Personnel. In practice, the Commandant of the Coast Guard, like his colleague in the Marine Corps, was left free to develop his own racial policy in accordance with the general directives of the Secretary of the Navy and the Chief of Naval Operations.
These legal distinctions had no bearing on the Marine Corps' prewar racial policy, which was designed to continue its tradition of excluding Negroes. The views of the commandant, Maj. Gen. Thomas Holcomb, on the subject of race were well known in the Navy. Negroes did not have the "right'' to demand a place in the corps, General Holcomb told the Navy's General Board when that body was considering the expansion of the corps in April 1941. "If it were a question of having a Marine Corps of 5,000 whites or 250,000 Negroes, I would rather have the whites.''5 He was more circumspect but no more reasonable when he explained the racial exclusion publicly. Black enlistment was impractical, he told one civil rights group, because the Marine Corps was too small to form racially separate units.6 And, if some Negroes persisted in trying to volunteer after Pearl Harbor, there was another deterrent, described by at least one senior recruiter: the medical examiner was cautioned to disqualify the black applicant during the enlistment physical. 7
Such evasions could no longer be practiced after President Roosevelt decided to admit Negroes to the general service of the naval establishment. According to Secretary Knox the President wanted the Navy to handle the matter "in a way that would not inject into the whole personnel of the Navy the race question.''8 Under pressure to make some move, General Holcomb proposed the enlistment of 1,000 Negroes in the volunteer Marine Corps Reserve for duty in the general service in a segregated composite defense battalion. The battalion would consist primarily of seacoast and antiaircraft artillery, a rifle company with a light tank platoon, and other weapons units and components necessary to make it a self-sustaining unit. 9 To inject the subject of race "to a less degree than any other known scheme," the commandant planned to train the unit in an isolated camp and assign it to a remote station. 10 The General Board accepted this proposal, explaining to Secretary Knox that Negroes could not be used in the Marine Corps' amphibious units because the inevitable replacement and redistribution of men in combat would "prevent the maintenance of necessary segregation." The board also mentioned that experienced noncommissioned officers were at a premium and that diverting them to train a black unit would be militarily inefficient. 11
MARINES OF THE 51ST DEFENSE BATTALION await turn on rifle range, Montford Point, 1942. [Photograph not included.]
Although the enlistment of black marines began on 1 June 1942, the corps placed the reservists on inactive status until a training-size unit could be enlisted and segregated facilities built at Montford Point on the vast training reservation at Marine Barracks, New River (later renamed Camp LeJeune), North Carolina.12 On 26 August the first contingent of Negroes began recruit training as the 51st Composite Defense Battalion at Montford Point under the command of Col. Samuel A. Woods, Jr. The corps had wanted to avoid having to train men as typists, truck drivers, and the like—specialist skills needed in the black composite unit. Instead, the commandant established black quotas for three of the four recruiting divisions, specifying that more than half the recruits qualify in the needed skills.13
The enlistment process proved difficult. The commandant reported that despite predictions of black educators to the contrary the corps had netted only sixty-three black recruits capable of passing the entrance examinations during the first three weeks of recruitment.14 As late as 29 October the Director of Plans and Policies was reporting that only 647 of the scheduled 1,200 men (the final strength figure decided upon for the all-black unit) had been enlisted. He blamed the occupational qualifications for the delay, adding that it was doubtful If even white recruits" could be procured under such strictures. The commandant approved his plan for enlisting Negroes without specific qualifications and Instituting a modified form of specialist training. Black marines would not be sent to specialist schools "unless there is a colored school available," but instead Marine Instructors would be sent to teach in the black camp. 15 In the end many of these first black specialists received their training in nearby Army installations.
Segregation was the common practice in all the services in 1942, as indeed it was throughout much of American society. If this practice appeared somehow more restrictive in the Marine Corps than it did in the other services, it was because of the corps' size and traditions. The illusion of equal treatment and Opportunity could be kept alive in the massive Army and Navy with their myriad units and military occupations; it was much more difficult to preserve in the small and specialized Marine Corps. Given segregation, the Marine Corps was obliged to put its few black marines in its few black units, whose small size limited the variety of occupations and training opportunities.
Yet the size of the corps would undergo considerable change, and on balance it was the Marine Corps' tradition of an all-white service, not its restrictive size, that-proved to be the most significant factor influencing racial policy. Again unlike the Army and Navy, the Marine Corps lacked the practical experience with black recruits that might have countered many of the alarums and prejudices concerning Negroes that circulated within the corps during the war. The importance of this experience factor comes out in the reminiscences of a senior official in the Division of Plans and Policies who looked back on his 1942 experiences:
It just scared us to death when the colored were put on it. I went over to Selective Service and saw Gen. Hershey, and he turned me over to a lieutenant colonel [Campbell C. Johnson]—that was in April—and he was one grand person. I told him, "Eleanor [Mrs. Roosevelt] says we gotta take in Negroes, and we are just scared to death, we've never had any in, we don't know how to handle them, we are afraid of them." He said, "I'll do my best to help you get good ones. I'll get the word around that if you want to die young, join the Marines. So anybody that joins is got to be pretty good!" And it was the truth. We got some awfully good Negroes. 16
Unfortunately for the peace of mind of the Marine Corps' personnel planner, the conception of a carefully limited and isolated black contingent was quickly overtaken by events. The President's decision to abolish volunteer enlistments for the armed forces in December 1942 and the subsequent establishment of a black quota for each component of the naval establishment meant that in the next year some 15,400 more Negroes, 10 percent of all Marine Corps inductees, would be added to the corps. 17 As it turned out the monthly draft calls were never completely filled, and by December 1943 only 9,916 of the scheduled black inductions had been completed, but by the time the corps stopped drafting men in 1946 it had received over 16,000 Negroes through the Selective Service. Including the 3,129 black volunteers, the number of Negroes in the Marine Corps during World War II totaled 19,168, approximately 4 percent of the corps' enlisted men.
The immediate problem of what to do with
this sudden influx of Negroes was complicated by the fact that many of the
draftees, the product of vastly inferior schooling, were incompetent. Where
black volunteers had to pass the corps'
rigid entrance requirements, draftees had only to meet the lowest selective
service standards. An exact breakdown of black Marine Corps draftees by
General Classification Test category is unavailable for the war period. A
breakdown of some 15,000 black enlisted men, however, was compiled ten weeks
after V-J day and included many of those drafted during the war. Category I
represents the most gifted men: 18
Segregation, not the draft, forced the Marine Corps to devise new jobs and units to absorb the black inductees. A plan circulated in the Division of Plans and Policies called for more defense battalions, a branch for messmen, and the assignment of large black units to local bases to serve as chauffeurs, messengers clerks, and janitors. Referring to the janitor assignment, one division official admitted that "I don't think we can get away with this type duty."19 In the end the Negroes were not used as chauffeurs, messengers, clerks, and janitors. Instead the corps placed a "maximum practical number" in defense battalions. The number of these units, however, was limited, as Maj. Gen. Harry Schmidt, the acting commandant, explained in March 1943, by the number of black noncommissioned officers available. Black noncommissioned officers were necessary, he continued, because in the Army's experience "in nearly all cases to intermingle colored and white enlisted personnel in the same organization" led to "trouble and disorder."20 Demonstrating his own and the Marine Corps' lack of experience with black troops, the acting commandant went on to provide his commanders with some rather dubious advice based on what he perceived as the Army's experience: black units should be commanded by men ''who thoroughly knew their [Negroes'] individual and racial characteristics and temperaments," and Negroes should be assigned to work they preferred.
SHORE PARTY IN TRAINING, CAMP LEJEUNE 1942 [Photograph not included.]
The points emphasized in General Schmidt's letter to Marine commanders—a rigid insistence on racial separation and a willingness to work for equal treatment of black troops—along with an acknowledgement of the Marine Corps' lack of experience with racial problems were reflected in commandant Holcomb's basic instruction on the subject of Negroes two months later: "All Marines are entitled to the same rights and privileges under Navy Regulations," and black marines could be expected "to conduct themselves with propriety and become a credit to the Marine Corps." General Holcomb was aware of the adverse effect of white noncommissioned officers on black morale, and he wanted them removed from black units as soon as possible. Since the employment of black marines was in itself a "new departure," he wanted to be informed periodically on how Negroes adapted to Marine Corps life, what their off-duty experience was with recreational facilities, and what their attitude was toward other marines.21
D-DAY ON PELELIU. Support troops participate in the landing of 1st Marine Division. [Photograph not included.]
These were generally progressive sentiments, evidence of the commandant's desire to provide for the peaceful assimilation and advancement of Negroes in he corps. Unfortunately for his reputation among the civil rights advocates, General Holcomb seemed overly concerned with certain social implications of rank and color. Undeterred by a lack of personal experience with interracial command, he was led in the name of racial harmony to an unpopular conclusion. "It is essential," he told his commanders, "that in no case shall there be colored noncommissioned officers senior to white men in the same unit, and desirable that few, if any be of the same rank."22 He was particularly concerned with the period when white instructors and noncommissioned officers were being phased out of black units. He wanted Negroes up for promotion to corporal transferred, before promotion, out of any unit that contained white corporals.
MEDICAL ATTENDANTS AT REST PELELIU, OCTOBER 1944 [Photograph not included.]
The Division of Plans and Policies tried to follow these strictures as it set about organizing the new black units. Job preference had already figured in the organization of the new Messman's Branch established in January 1943. At that time Secretary Knox had approved the reconstitution of the corps' all-white Mess Branch as the Commissary Branch and the organization of an all-black Messman's Branch along the lines of the Navy's Steward's Branch.23 In authorizing the new branch, which was quickly redesignated the Steward's Branch to conform to the Navy model, Secretary Knox specified that the members must volunteer for such duty. Yet the corps, under pressure to produce large numbers of stewards in the early months of the war, showed so little faith in the volunteer system that Marine recruiters were urged to induce half of all black recruits to sign on as stewards.24 Original plans called for the assignment of one steward for every six officers, but the lack of volunteers and the needs of the corps quickly caused this estimate to be scaled down.25 By 5 July 1944 the Steward's Branch numbered 1,442 men, roughly 14 percent of the total black strength of the Marine Corps.26 It remained approximately this size for the rest of the war.
The admonition to employ black marines to the maximum extent practical n defense battalions was based on the mobilization planners' belief that each of these battalions, with its varied artillery, infantry, and armor units, would provide close to a thousand black marines with varied assignments in a self-contained, segregated unit. But the realities of the Pacific war and the draft quickly rendered these plans obsolete. As the United States gained the ascendancy, the need for defense battalions rapidly declined, just as the need for special logistical units to move supplies in the forward areas increased. The corps had originally depended on its replacement battalions to move the mountains of supply involved in amphibious assaults, but the constant flow of replacements to battlefield units and the need for men with special logistical skill had led in the middle of the war to the organization of pioneer battalions. To supplement the work of these shore party units and to absorb the rapidly growing number of black draftees, the Division of Plans and Policies eventually created fifty-one separate depot companies and twelve separate ammunition companies manned by Negroes. The majority of these new units served in base and service depots, handling ammunition and hauling supplies, but a significant number of them also served as part of the shore parties attached to the divisional assault units. These units often worked under enemy fire and on occasion joined in the battle as they moved supplies, evacuated the wounded, and secured the operation's supply dumps.27 Nearly 8,000 men, about 40 percent of the corps' black enlistment, served in this sometimes hazardous combat support duty. The experience of these depot and ammunition companies provided the Marine Corps with an interesting irony. In contrast to Negroes in the other services, black marines trained for combat were never so used. Those trained for the humdrum labor tasks, however, found themselves in the thick of the fighting on Saipan, Peleliu, Iwo Jima, and elsewhere, suffering combat casualties and winning combat citations for their units.
The increased allotment of black troops entering the corps and the commandant's call for replacing all white noncommissioned officers with blacks as quickly as they could be sufficiently trained caused problems for the black combat units. The 51st Defense Battalion in particular suffered many vicissitudes in its training and deployment. The 51st was the first black unit in the Marine Corps, a doubtful advantage considering the frequent reorganization and rapid troop turnover that proved its lot. At first the reception and training of all black inductees fell to the battalion, but in March 1943 a separate Headquarters Company, Recruit Depot Battalion, was organized at Montford Point.28 Its cadre was drawn from the 51st, as were the noncommissioned officers and key personnel of he newly organized ammunition and depot companies and the black security detachments organized at Montford Point and assigned to the Naval Ammunition Depot, McAlester, Oklahoma, and the Philadelphia Depot of Supplies.
In effect, the 51st served as a specialist training school for the black combat units When the second black defense battalion, the 52d, was organized in December 1943 its cadre, too, was drawn from the 51st. By the time the 5 1st was actually deployed, it had been reorganized several times and many of its best men had been siphoned off as leaders for new units. To compound these losses of experienced men, the battalion was constantly receiving large influxes of inexperienced and educationally deficient draftees and sometimes there was infighting among its officers.29
Training for black units only emphasized the rigid segregation enforced in the Marine Corps. After their segregated eight-week recruit training, the men were formed into companies at Montford Point; those assigned to the defense battalion' were sent for specialist training in the weapons and equipment employed in such units, including radar, motor transport, communications, and artillery fire direction. Each of the ammunition companies sent sixty of its men to special ammunition and camouflage schools where they would be promoted to corporal when they completed the course. In contrast to the depot companies and elements of the defense battalions, the ammunition units would have white staff sergeants as ordnance specialists throughout the war. This exception to the rule of black noncommissioned officers for black units was later justified on the grounds that such units required experienced supervisors to emphasize and enforce safety regulations.30 On the whole specialist training was segregated whenever possible even the white instructors were rapidly replaced by blacks.
Before being sent overseas, black units underwent segregated field training although the length of this training varied considerably according to the type of unit. Depot companies, for example, were labor units pure and simple, organized to perform simple tasks, and many of them were sent to the Pacific less than two weeks after activation. In contrast, the 51st Defense Battalion spent two months In hard field training, scarcely enough considering the number of raw recruits, totally unfamiliar with gunnery, that were being fed regularly into what was essentially an artillery battalion.
The experience of the two defense battalions demonstrates that racial considerations governed their eventual deployment just as it had decided their organization. With no further strategic need for defense battalions, the Marine Corps began to dismantle them in 1944, just as the two black units became operational and were about to be sent to the Central and South Pacific. The eighteen white defense battalions were subsequently reorganized as antiaircraft artillery battalions for use with amphibious groups in the forward areas. While the two black units were similarly reorganized, only they and one of the white units retained the title of defense battalion. Their deployment was also different. The policy of self-contained, segregated service was, in the case of a large combat unit, best followed in the rear areas, and the two black battalions were assigned to routine garrison duties in the backwaters of the theater, the 51st at Eniwetok in the Marshalls, the 52d at Guam. The latter unit saw nearly half its combat-trained men detailed to work as stevedores. It was not surprising that the morale in both units suffered. 31
GUN CREW OF THE 52D DEFENSE BATTALION, On duty, Central Pacific,1945. [Photograph not included.]
Even more explicitly racial was the warning of a senior combat commander to the effect that the deployment of black depot units to the Polynesian areas of the Pacific should be avoided. The Polynesians, he explained, were delightful people, and their "primitively romantic" women shared their intimate favors with one and all. Mixture with the white race had produced "a very high-class half-caste," mixture with the Chinese a "very desireable type," but the union of black and "Melanesian types… produces a very undesirable citizen." The Marine Corps, Maj. Gen. Charles F. B. Price continued, had a special moral obligation and a selfish interest in protecting the population of American Samoa, especially, from intimacy with Negroes; he strongly urged therefore that any black units deployed to the Pacific should be sent to Micronesia where they "can do no racial harm. " 32
General Price must have been entertaining second thoughts, since five depot companies were already en route to Samoa at his request. Nevertheless, because of the "importance" of his reservations the matter was brought to the attention of the Director of Plans and Policies.33 As a result, the assignment of the 7th and 8th Depot Companies to Samoa proved short-lived. Arriving on 13 October 1943, they were redeployed to the Ellice Islands in the Micronesia group the next day.
Thanks to the operations of the ammunition and depot companies, a large number of black marines, serving in small, efficient labor units, often exposed to enemy foe, made a valuable contribution. That so many black marines participated, at least from time to time, in the fighting may explain in part the fact chat relatively few racial incidents took place in the corps during the war. But if many Negroes served in forward areas, they were all nevertheless severely restricted in opportunity. Black marines were excluded from the corps' celebrated combat divisions and its air arm. They were also excluded from the Women's Reserve, and not until the last months of the war did the corps accept its first black officer candidates. Marine spokesmen justified the latter exclusion on the grounds that the corps lacked facilities—that is, segregated facilities—for training black officers.34
These exclusions did not escape the attention of the civil rights spokesmen who took their demands to Secretary Knox and the White House.35 It was to little avail. With the exception of the officer candidates in 1945, the separation of the races remained absolute, and Negroes continued to be excluded from the main combat units of the Marine Corps.
Personal prejudices aside, the desire for social harmony and the fear of the unknown go far toward explaining the Marine Corps' wartime racial policy. A small, specialized, and racially exclusive organization, the Marine Corps reacted to the directives of the Secretary of the Navy and the necessities of wartime operation with a rigid segregation policy, its black troops restricted to about 4 percent of hits enlisted strength. A large part of this black strength was assigned to labor units where Negroes performed valuable and sometimes dangerous service in the Pacific war. Complaints from civil rights advocates abounded, but neither protests nor the cost to military efficiency of duplicating training facilities were of sufficient moment to overcome the sentiment against significant racial change, which was kept to a minimum. Judged strictly in terms of keeping racial harmony, the corps policy must be considered a success. Ironically this very success prevented any modification of that policy during the war. CREWMEN OF USCG LIFEBOAT STATION, PEA ISLAND, NORTH CAROLINA, ready surfboat f or launching. [Photograph not included.]
The Coast Guard's pre-World War II experience with Negroes differed from that of the other branches of the naval establishment. Unlike the Marine Corps, the Coast Guard could boast a tradition of black enlistment stretching far back ink the previous century. Although it shared this tradition with the Navy, the Coast Guard, unlike the Navy, had always severely restricted Negroes both in terms of numbers enlisted and jobs assigned. A small group of Negroes manned a lifesaving station at Pea Island on North Carolina's outer banks. Negroes also served as crewmen at several lighthouses and on tenders in the Mississippi River basin; all were survivors of the transfer of the Lighthouse Service to the Coast Guard in 1939. These guardsmen were almost always segregated, although a few served in integrated crews or even commanded large Coast Guard vessels and small harbor craft. 36 They also served in the separate Steward's Branch, although it might be argued that the small size of most Coast Guard vessels integrated in fact men who were segregated in theory.
COAST GUARD RECRUITS at Manhattan Beach Training Station, New York. [Photograph not included.]
The lot of the black Coast Guardsman on a small cutter was not necessarily a happy one. To a surprising extent the enlisted men of the prewar Coast Guard were drawn from the eastern shore and outer banks region of the Atlantic coast where service in the Coast Guard had become a strong family tradition among a people whose attitude toward race was rarely progressive. Although these men tolerated an occasional small black Coast Guard crew or station, they might well resist close service with individual Negroes. One commander reported that racial harassment drove the solitary black in the prewar crew of the cutter Calypso of the service. 37
Coast Guard officials were obviously mindful of such potential trouble when, at Secretary Knox's bidding, they joined in the General Board's discussion of the expanded use of Negroes in the general service in January 1942. In the name of the Coast Guard, Commander Lyndon Spencer agreed with the objections voiced by the Navy and the Marine Corps, adding that the Coast Guard problem was "enhanced somewhat by the fact that our units are small and contacts between the men are bound to be closer." He added that while the Coast Guard was not "anxious to take on any additional problems at this time, if we have to we will take some of them [Negroes]. " 38
When President Roosevelt made it clear that Negroes were to be enlisted Coast Guard Commandant Rear Adm. Russell R. Waesche had a plan ready The Coast Guard would enlist approximately five hundred Negroes in the general service, he explained to the chairman of the General Board, Vice Adm Walton R. Sexton. Some three hundred of these men would be trained for duty on small vessels, the rest for shore duty under the captain of the port of six cities throughout the United States. Although his plan made no provision for the training of black petty officers, the commandant warned Admiral Sexton that 50 to 65 percent of the crew in these small cutters and miscellaneous craft helc such ratings, and it followed that Negroes would eventually be allowed to try for such ratings. 39
Further refining the plan for the General Board on 24 February, Admiral Waesche listed eighteen vessels, mostly buoy tenders and patrol boats, that would be assigned black crews. All black enlistees would be sent to the Manhattan Beach Training Station, New York, for a basic training "longer and more extensive" than the usual recruit training. After recruit training the men would be divided into groups according to aptitude and experience and would undergo advanced instruction before assignment. Those trained for ship duty would be grouped into units of a size to enable them to go aboard and assume all but the petty officer ratings of the designated ships. The commandant wanted to initiate this program with a group of 150 men. No other Negroes would be enlisted until the first group had been trained and assigned to duty for a period long enough to permit a survey of its performance. Admiral Waesche warned that the whole program was frankly new and untried and was therefore subject to modification as it evolved.40
The plan was a major innovation in the Coast Guard's manpower policy. For the first time a number of Negroes, approximately 1.6 percent of the guard's total enlisted complement, would undergo regular recruit and specialized training. 41 More than half would serve aboard ship at close quarters with their white petty officers. The rest would be assigned to port duty with no special provision for segregated service. If the provision for segregating nonrated Coast Guardsmen when they were at sea was intended to prevent the development of racial anragonism7 the lack of a similar provision for Negroes ashore was puzzling; but whatever the Coast Guard's reasoning in the matter, the General Board was obviously concerned with the provisions for segregation in the plan. Its chairman told Secretary Knox that the assignment of Negroes to the captains of the ports was a practical use of Negroes in wartime, since these men could be segregated in service units. But their assignment to small vessels, Admiral Sexton added, meant that "the necessary segregation and limitation of authority would be increasingly difficult to maintain" and "opportunities for advancement would be fever." For Mat reason, he concluded, the employment of such black crews was practical but- not desirable.42
The General Board was overruled, and the Coast Guard proceeded to recruit its first group of 150 black volunteers, sending them to Manhattan Beach for basic training in the spring of 1942. The small size of the black general service program precluded the establishment of a separate training station, but the Negroes were formed into a separate training company at Manhattan Beach. While training classes and other duty activities were integrated, sleeping and messing facilities were segregated. Although not geographically separated as were the black sailors at Camp Smalls or the marines at Montford Point, the black recruits of the separate training company at Manhattan Beach were effectively impressed with the reality of segregation in the armed forces.43
After taking a four-week basic course, those who qualified were trained as radiomen, pharmacists, yeomen, coxswains, fire controlmen, or in other skills in the seaman branch.44 Those who did not so qualify were transferred for further training in preparation for their assignment to the captains of the ports. Groups of black Coast Guardsmen, for example, were sent to the Pea Island Station after their recruit training for several weeks' training in beach duties. Similar groups of white recruits were also sent to the Pea Island Station for training under the black chief boatswain's mate in charge. 45 By August 1942 some three hundred Negroes had been recruited, trained, and assigned to general service duties under the new program. At the same time the Coast Guard continued to recruit hundreds of Negroes for its separate Steward's Branch.
The commandant's program for the orderly induction and assignment of a limited number of black volunteers was, as in the case of the Navy and Marine Corps, abruptly terminated in December 1942 when the President ended volunteer enlistment for most military personnel. For the rest of the war the Coast Guard, along with the Navy and Marine Corps, came under the strictures of the Selective Service Act, including its racial quota system. The Coast Guard, however, drafted relatively few men, issuing calls for a mere 22,500 and eventually inducting only 15,296. But more than 12 percent of its calls (2,500 men between February and November 1943) and 13 percent of all those drafted (1,667) were Negro. On the average, 137 Negroes and 1,000 whites were inducted each month during 1943.46 Just over 5,000 Negroes served as Coast Guardsmen in World War II.47
As it did for the Navy and Marine Corps, the sudden influx of Negroes from Selective Service necessitated a revision of the Coast Guard's personnel planning. Many of the new men could be assigned to steward duties, but by January 1943 the Coast Guard already had some 1,500 stewards and the branch could absorb only half of the expected black draftees. The rest would have to be assigned to the general service.48 And here the organization and mission of the Coast Guard, far more so than those of the Navy and Marine Corps, militated against the formation of large segregated units. The Coast Guard had no use for the amorphous ammunition and depot companies and the large Seabee battalions of the rest of the naval establishment. For that reason the large percentage of its black seamen in the general service (approximately 37 percent of all black Coast Guardsmen) made a considerable amount of integration inevitable; the small number of Negroes in the general service (1,300 men, less than 1 percent of the total enlisted strength of the Coast Guard) made integration socially acceptable.
The majority of black Coast Guardsmen were
only peripherally concerned with this wartime evolution of racial policy.
Some 2,300 Negroes served in the racially separate Steward's Branch,
performing the same duties in officer messes and quarters as stewards in the
Navy and Marine Corps. But not quite, for the size of Coast Guard vessels
and their crews necessitated the use of stewards at more important battle
stations. For example, a group of stewards under the leadership of a black
gun captain manned the three-inch gun on the afterdeck of the cutter Campbell
and won a citation for helping to destroy an enemy submarine in February
1943.49 The Personnel Division worked to make
the separate Steward's Branch equal to the rest of the service in terms of
promotion and emoluments, and there were instances when individual stewards
successfully applied for ratings in general service.50
Again, the close quarters aboard Coast
Guard vessels made the talents of stewards for general service duties more noticeable to officers.51The evidence suggests, however, that the majority of the black stewards, about 63 percent of all the Negroes in the Coast Guard, continued to function as servants throughout the war. As in the rest of the naval establishment, the stewards in the Coast Guard were set apart not only by their limited service but also by different uniforms and the fact that chief stewards were not regarded as chief petty officers. In fact, the rank of chief steward was not introduced until the war led to an enlargement of the Coast Guard.52
STEWARDS AT BATTLE STATION on the afterdeck of the cutter CampbelI. [Photograph not included.]
The majority of black guardsmen in general service served ashore under the captains of the ports, local district commanders, or at headquarters establishments. Men in these assignments included hundreds in security and labor details, but more and more served as yeomen, radio operators, storekeepers, and the like. Other Negroes were assigned to local Coast Guard stations, and a second all-black station was organized during the war at Tiana Beach, New York. Still others participated in the Coast Guard's widespread beach patrol operations. Organized in 1942 as outposts and lookouts again) possible enemy infiltration of the nation's extensive coastlines, the patrols employed more than 11 percent of all the Coast Guard's enlisted men. This large group included a number of horse and dog patrols employing only black] guardsmen.53 In all, some 2,400 black Coast Guardsmen served in the shore establishment.
SHORE LEAVE IN SCOTLAND. The distinctive uniform of the Coast Guard steward is shown. [Photograph not included.]
The assignment of so many Negroes to shore duties created potential prom blems for the manpower planners, who were under orders to rotate sea and shore assignments periodically.54 Given the many black general duty seamen denied sea duty because of the Coast Guard's segregation policy but promoted into the more desirable shore-based jobs to the detriment of whites waiting for rotation to such assignments, the possibility of serious racial trouble was obvious
At least one officer in Coast Guard headquarters was concerned enough to recommend that the policy be revised. With two years' service in Greenland waters, the last year as executive officer of the USCGC Northland, Lt. Carlton Skinner had firsthand experience with the limitations of the Coast Guard's racial policy. While on the Northland Skinner had recommended that a skilled black mechanic, then serving as a steward's mate, be awarded a motor mechanic petty officer rating only to find his recommendation rejected on racial grounds. The rating was later awarded after an appeal by Skinner, but the incident set the stage for the young officer's later involvement with the Coast Guard's racial traditions On shore duty at Coast Guard headquarters in June 1943, Skinner recommended to the commandant that a group of black seamen be provided with some practical seagoing experience under a sympathetic commander in a completely integrated operation. He emphasized practical experience in an integrated setting, he later revealed, because he was convinced that men with high test scores and specialized training did not necessarily make the best sailors, especially when their training was segregated. Skinner envisioned a widespread distribution of Negroes throughout the Coast Guard's seagoing vessels. His recommendation was no "experiment in social democracy," he later stressed, but was a design for "an efficient use of manpower to help win a war."55
Although Skinner's immediate superior forwarded the recommendation as "disapproved," Admiral Waesche accepted the idea. In November 1943 Skinner found himself transferred to the USS Sea Cloud (IX 99), a patrol ship operating in the North Atlantic as part of Task Force 24 reporting on weather conditions from four remote locations in northern waters.56 The commandant also arranged for the transfer of black apprentice seamen, mostly from Manhattan Beach, to the Sea Cloud in groups of about twenty men, gradually increasing the number of black seamen in the ship's complement every time it returned to home station. Skinner, promoted to lieutenant commander and made captain of the Sea Cloud on his second patrol, later decided that the commandant had "figured he could take a chance on me and the Sea Cloud. "57
It was a chance well taken. Before decommissioning in November 1944, the Sea Cloud served on ocean weather stations off the coasts of Greenland, Newfoundland, and France. It received no special treatment and was subject to the same tactical, operating, and engineering requirements as any other unit in the Navy's Atlantic Fleet. It passed two Atlantic Fleet inspections with no deficiencies and was officially credited with helping to sink a German submarine in June 1944. The Sea Cloud boasted a completely integrated operation, its 4 black officers and some 50 black petty officers and seamen serving throughout the ship's 173-man complement. 58 No problems of a racial nature arose on the ship, although its captain reported that his crew experienced some hostility in the various departments of the Boston Navy Yard from time to time. Skinner was determined to provide truly integrated conditions. He personally introduced his black officers into the local white officers' club, and he saw to it that when his men were temporarily detached for shore patrol duty they would go in integrated teams. Again, all these arrangements were without sign of racial incident. 59
COMMANDER SKINNER AND CREW OF THE USS SEA CLOUD. Skinner officiates at awards ceremony. [Photograph not included.]
It is difficult to assess the reasons for the commandant's decision to organize an integrated crew. One senior personnel officer later suggested that the Sea Cloud was merely a public relations device designed to still the mounting criticism by civil rights spokesmen of the lack of sea duty for black Coast Guardsmen.60 The public relations advantage of an integrated ship operating in the war zone must have been obvious to Admiral Waesche, although the Coast Guard made no effort to publicize the Sea Cloud. In fact, this absence of special attention had been recommended by Skinner in his original proposal to the commandant. Such publicity, he felt, would disrupt the military experiment and make it more difficult to apply generally the experience gained.
ENSIGN JENKINS AND LIEUTENANT SAMUELS, first black Coast Guard officers, on board the Sea Cloud. [Photograph not included.]
The success of the Sea Cloud experiment did not lead to the widespread integration implied in Commander Skinner's recommendation. The only other extensively integrated Coast Guard vessel assigned to a war zone was the destroyer escort Hoquim, operating in 1945 out of Adak in the Aleutian Islands' convoying shipping along the Aleutian chain. Again, the commander of the ship was Skinner. Nevertheless the practical reasons for Skinner's first recommendation must also have been obvious to the commandant, and the evidence suggests that the Sea Cloud project was but one of a series of liberalizing moves the Coast Guard made during the war, not only to still the criticism in the black community but also to solve the problems created by the presence of a growing number of black seamen in the general service. There is also reason to believe that the Coast Guard's limited use of racially mixed crews influenced the Navy's decision to integrate the auxiliary fleet in 1945. Senior naval officials studied a report on the Sea Cloud, and one of Secretary Forrestal's assistants consulted Skinner on his experiences and their relation to greater manpower efficiency.61
Throughout the war the Coast Guard never exhibited the concern shown by the other services for the possible disruptive effects if blacks outranked whites. As the war progressed, more and more blacks advanced into petty officer ranks; by August 1945 some 965 Negroes, almost a third of their total number, were petty or warrant officers, many of them in the general service. Places for these trained specialists in any kind of segregated general service were extremely limited, and by the last year of the war many black petty officers could be found serving in mostly white crews and station complements. For example, a black pharmacist, second- class, and a signalman, third class, served on the cutter Spencer, a black coxswain served on a cutter in the Greenland patrol, and other black petty officers were assigned to recruiting stations, to the loran program, and as instructors at the Manhattan Beach Training Station.62
The position of instructor at Manhattan
Beach became the usual avenue to a commission for a Negro. Joseph C. Jenkins
went from Manhattan Beach to the officer candidate school at the Coast Guard
Academy, graduating as an ensign in the Coast Guard Reserve in April 1943,
almost a full year before Negroes were commissioned in the Navy. Clarence
Samuels, a warrant officer and instructor at
Manhattan Beach, was commissioned as a lieutenant (junior grade) and assigned to the Sea Cloud in 1943. Harvey C. Russell was a signal instructor at Manhattan Beach in 1944 when all instructors were declared eligible to apply for commissions. At first rejected by the officer training school, Russell was finally admitted at the insistence of his commanding officer, graduated as an ensign, and assigned to the Sea Cloud.63
These men commanded integrated enlisted seamen throughout the rest of the war. Samuels became the first Negro in this century to command a Coast Guard vessel in wartime, first as captain of Lightship No. 115 and later of the USCGC Sweetgum in the Panama Sea Frontier. Russell was transferred from the integrated Hoquim to serve as executive officer on a cutter operating out of Philippines in the western Pacific, assuming command of the racially mixed crew shortly after the war.
At the behest of the White House, the Coast Guard also joined with the Navy in integrating its Women's Reserve. In the fall of 1944 it recruited five black women for the SPARS. Only token representation, but understandable since the SPARS ceased all recruitment except for replacements on 23 November 1944, just weeks after the decision to recruit Negroes was announced. Nevertheless the five women trained at Manhattan Beach and were assigned to various Coast Guard district offices without regard to race.64
This very real progress toward equal treatment and opportunity for Negroes in the Coast Guard must be assessed with the knowledge that the progress was experienced by only a minuscule group. Negroes never rose above 2.1 percent of the Coast Guard's wartime population, well below the figures for the other services. This was because the other services were forced to obtain draft-age men, including a significant number of black inductees from Selective Service, whereas the Coast Guard ceased all inductions in early 1944.
Despite their small numbers, however, the black Coast Guardsmen enjoyed a variety of assignments. The different reception accorded this small group of Negroes might, at least to some extent, be explained by the Coast Guard's tradition of some black participation for well over a century. To a certain extent this progress could also be attributed to the ease with which the directors of a small organization can reorder its policies.65 But above all, the different reception accorded Negroes in the Coast Guard was a small organization's practical reaction to a pressing assimilation problem dictated by the manpower policies common throughout the naval establishment.
2Executive Order 8928, 1 Nov 41. A similar transfer under provisions of the 1915 law was effected during World War I. The service's predecessor organizations, the Revenue Marine, Revenue Service, Revenue-Marine Service, and the Revenue Cutter Service, had also provided the Navy with certain specified ships and men during all wars since the Revolution.
9In devising plans for the composite battalion the Director of Plans and Policies rejected a proposal to organize a black raider battalion. The author of the proposal had explained that Negroes would make ideal night raiders "as no camouflage of faces and hands would be necessary." Memo, Col Thomas Gale for Exec Off. Div of Plans and Policies, 19 Feb 42, AO-250, MC files.
12Memo, CMC for District Cmdrs, All Reserve Districts Except 10th, 14th, 15th. and 16th, 25 May 42, sub: Enlistment of Colored Personnel in the Marine Corps, Historical and Museum Division, Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps (hereafter Hist Div, HQMC). For further discussion of the training of black marines and other matters pertaining to Negroes in the Marine Corps, see Shaw and Donnellv, Blacks in the Marine Corps. This volume by the corps' chief historian and the former chief of its history division's reference branch is the official account.
13Memo, CMC for Off in Charge, Eastern, Central, and Southern Recruiting Divs,15 May 42, sub: Enlistment of Colored Personnel in the Marine Corps, AP-54 (1535), MC files. The country was divided into four recruiting divisions, but black enlistment was not opened in the west coast division on the theory that there would be few volunteers and sending them to North Carolina would be unjustifiably expensive. Only white marines were trained in California. This circumstance brought complaints from civil rights groups. See, for example, Telg. Walter White to SecNav, 14 Jul 42, AP-361, MC files.
18Memo, Dir, Pers, for Dir, Div of Plans and Policies, 21 Jul 48, sub: GCT Percentile Equivalents for Colored Enlisted Marines in November 1945 and in March 1948, sub file: Negro Marines-Test and Testing, Ref Br, Hist Div, HQMC.
22Ibid. The subject of widespread public complaint when its existence became known after the war, the instruction was rescinded. See Memo, J. A Stuart. Div of Plans and Policies, for CMC, 14 Feb 46, sub: Ltr of Inst #421 Revocation of, AO-1, copy in Ref Br, Hist Div, HQMC.
23Memo. CMC for SecNav, 30 Dec 42, sub: Change of Present Mess Branch in the Marine Corps to Commissary Branch and Establishment of a Messman's Branch and Ranks Therein, with SecNav approval indicated, AO-363-311. See also Memo, CMC for Chief, NavPers, 30 Dec 42, sub: Request for Allotment to MC .... A-363; Memo, Dir, Div of Plans and Policies, for C.\1C. 23 Nov 42. sub: Organization of Mess Branch (Colored). AO-283. All in MC files.
24Memo, Dir of Recruiting for Off in Charge, Eastern Recruiting Div et al., 25 Feb 42, sub: Messman Branch, AP-361-1390; Memo, CMC for SecNav, 3 Apr 43, sub: Change in Designation . . .. AO-340-1930. Both in MC files.
29For charges and countercharges on the part of the 51st's commanders, see Hq, 51st Defense Bn, "Record of Proceedings of an Investigation," 27 Jun 44; Memo. Lt Col Floyd A. Stephenson for CMC, 30 May 44, sub: Fifty-First Defense Battalion, Fleet Marine Force, with indorsements and attachments; Memo, CO, 51st Def Bn, for CIVIC, 20 Jul 44, sub: Combat Efficiency, Fifty-First Defense Battalion. All in Ref Br, Hist Div.
31For a discussion of black morale in the comber-trained units, see USMC Oral History Interview. Obie Hall, 16 Aug 72, Ref Br, and John H. Griffin, "My Life in the Marine Corps." Personal Papers Collection. Museums Br. Both in Hist Div. HQMC.
35See, for example, Ltr, Mary Findley Allen, Interracial Cmte of Federation of Churches, to Mrs. Roosevelt (ca. 9 Mar 43); Memo, SecNav for Rear Adm Jacobs, 22 Mar 43, P-25: Memo, R. C. Kilmartin Jr., Div of Plans and Policies, for Dir, Div of Plans and Policies, 25 Sep 43, AO-434. All in Hist Div, HQMC.
36Capt. Michael Healy, who was of Irish and Afro-American heritage, served as commanding officer of the Bear and other major Coast Guard vessels. At his retirement in 1903 Healy was the third ranking officer in the U.S. Revenue Cutter Service. See Robert E. Greene, Black Dejenders of America, 1775-1973 (Chicago: Johnson Publishing Company, 1974), p. 139. For pre-World War II service of Negroes in the Coast Guard, see Truman R. Strohridge, Blacks and Lights: A Brief Historical Survey of Blacks and the Old U.S. Lighthouse Service (Office of the USCG Historian, 1975); H. Kaplan and ). Hunt, This Is the United States Coast Guard Cambridge, Md.: Cornell Maritime Press, 1971); Rodney H. Benson, "Romance and Story of Pea Island Station," U.S. Coast Guard Magazine (November 1932):52; George Reasons and Sam Patrick, "Richard Etheridge—Saved Sailors," Washington Star, November 13, 1971. For the position of Negroes on the eve of World War II induction see Enlistment of Men of Colored Race (201), 23 Jan 42. Hearings Before the General Board of the Navy, 1942.
39Memo, Cmdt, CG, for Adm Sexton, Chmn of Gen Bd, 2 Feb 42, sub: Enlistment of Men of the Colored Race in Other Than Messman Branch, attached to Enlistment of Men of Colored Race (201), 23 Jan 42, Hearings Before the General Board of the Navy, 1942.
41Unless otherwise noted, all statistics on Coast Guard personnel are derived from Memo, Chief, Statistical Services Div, for Chief, Pub Information Div, 30 Mar 54, sub: Negro Personnel, Officers and Enlisted; Number of, Office of the USCG Historian; and ''Coast Guard Personnel Growth Chart," Report of the Secretary of the Navy-Fiscal 1945, p. A- 15
52For discussion of limited service of Coast Guard stewards. see Testimony of Coast Guard Representatives Before the President's Committee on Equality of Treatment and Opportunity in the Armed Services, 18 Mar 49. pp. 27-31.
55Interv, author with Skinner; Ltr, Skinner to author, 29 Jun 75, in CMH files. The Skinner memorandum to Admiral Waesche, like so many of the personnel policy papers of the U.S. Coast Guard from the World War II period, cannot be located. For a detailed discussion of Skinner's motives and experiences, see his testimony before the President's Committee on Equality of Treatment and Opportunity in the Armed Services, 25 Apr 49. pp. 1-24.
56A unique vessel, the Sea Cloud was on loan to the government for the duration of the war by its owner, the former Ambassador to Russia, Joseph Davies. Davies charged a nominal sum and extracted the promise that the vessel would be restored to its prewar condition as one of the world's most famous private yachts
60Interv, author with Rear Adm R. T. McElligott, 24 Feb 75, CMH files. For an example of the Coast Guard reaction to civil rights criticism. see Ltr, USCG Public Relations Officer to Douglas Hall. Washington Afro-American, July 12, 1943, CG 051, Office of the USCG Historian.
63"A Black History in WWII" pp. 31-34. For an account of Samuels' long career in the Coast Guard, see Joseph Greco and Truman R. Strobridge, ''Black Trailblazer Has Colorful Past," Fifth Dimension (3d Quarter, 1973); see also Interv, author with Russell.