Breaking Down the Walls of Segregation
Veterans Remember First All-Black Navy Band
"F*****g n****r! Get out of our town! You don't belong here!"
Despite the hostile response they received from some of the audience when marching down the streets of segregated southern towns, the 44-member, all-black ensemble of professional musicians played on, braving the insults and missiles violently hurled at them. Covered in scars, cuts, mud and sometimes excrement that had been thrown at them, they proudly marched forward in unison. They were blazing a trail to dismantle racial barriers in America.
At a time when most employment opportunities for African-Americans were relegated to menial work, President Franklin Roosevelt's June 1941 Executive Order 8802 directed that "there shall be no discrimination in the employment of workers in defense industries or government because of race, creed, color, or national origin ... to encourage full participation in the national defense program by all citizens of the United States." He was preparing America to enter World War II.
As a result, North Carolina Governor J. Melville Broughton, University of North Carolina President Frank Porter Graham, North Carolina College President James E. Shepard, North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University President F.D. Bluford and North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company President C.C. Spaulding convinced Roosevelt and his wife to foster the creation of an all-"negro" professional music band that could not only inspire black citizens to enlist in the Navy, but boost morale during the war. The Navy's B-1 Band was born.
At that time, African-Americans could only join the Navy as mess attendants and stewards. However, the musicians, who were recruited from top colleges and high school music programs, enlisted into the Navy's general ranks, so the band was ground breaking. Today, there are four known survivors, including Calvin F. Morrow, Jewitt L. White and Simeon O. Halloway.