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WASHINGTON — Mr. Franklin Parker, Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Manpower and Reserve Affairs (ASN M&RA), met with family members of the 'Philadelphia 15' at the Pentagon on November 6, 2023.
The 'Philadelphia 15' were fifteen African American service members aboard the USS Philadelphia (CL 41) who faced racial discrimination and injustice during their service in 1940. This meeting marks an important step in acknowledging and rectifying the past injustices faced by these sailors.
"I am deeply honored to have the opportunity to meet with the family members of the 'Philadelphia 15' and personally express our gratitude for their loved ones' service and sacrifice,” said Parker. “This meeting is a significant moment for us to acknowledge the injustices they faced and to ensure their stories are heard and remembered. It is my hope through this meeting, we can provide some measure of closure and healing for the families, and reaffirm our commitment to equality and justice within the Department of the Navy."
The meeting was attended by descendants of Mr. Otto Robinson and Mr. Jesse Watford, two members of the 'Philadelphia 15'. The descendants attended in person and virtually.
“I want to thank Ms. Dina Finkel and Mr. Franklin Parker for inviting us to the Pentagon today and for the opportunity to express our feelings and stories about our families,” said Frances Goodman, Watford’s granddaughter. “I want to thank them for the chance to receive the updated discharge certificate and for honoring the Philadelphia 15 this Veteran’s Day week.”
The Department of the Navy (DON) recognizes the contributions of African American Sailors, past and present, to the strength of the force and the defense of the nation. The DON remains committed to addressing disparities and ensuring equal opportunities for all service members.
"Meeting with family members of the 'Philadelphia 15' exemplifies the DON’s commitment to correcting disparities and fostering a diverse workforce,” said Parker. “By acknowledging and rectifying the injustices faced by these brave sailors, we send a powerful message that we value the contributions of all service members, regardless of their background. This commitment to equality and justice is not only essential for attracting and developing a diverse workforce, but also for retaining the talent and dedication that strengthens our Navy and ensures our success as a force."
The 'Philadelphia 15' authored a letter published in the Pittsburgh Courier in October 1940, describing the racial discrimination, abuse, and limited opportunities for advancement they experienced in the Navy due to their race. As a result, all fifteen men were discharged within one to four months of the publication, with two receiving "Bad Conduct Discharges (BCDs)" and the rest receiving "undesirable" charges.
After a thorough review of their cases, Mr. Robert Hogue, Principal Deputy ASN (M&RA) filed a group application with the Board for Correction of Naval Records (BCNR) in August 2022, requesting that the records of the 'Philadelphia 15' be corrected and relief be granted. The BCNR unanimously recommended all fifteen men receive an honorable discharge and a favorable reason for their separation, rectifying the previous unjust characterizations of their service. On June 16, 2023 Parker, alongside descendants of John and Larry Ponder, two members of the Philadelphia 15, announced the correction of the records in a ceremony at the Pentagon.
The Office of the ASN M&RA serves as the principal advisor to the Secretary of Defense and the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness on all matters related to civilian and military personnel policies, reserve integration, military community and family policy, and total force manpower and resources.
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