Navy's First Black Captain Dies

Story Number: NNS070420-15Release Date: 4/20/2007 2:10:00 PM
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From Chief of Naval Personnel Diversity Directorate

WASHINGTON (NNS) -- The Navy's first black Sailor to be promoted to the rank of captain died April 16 in Norfolk.

Funeral services for retired Capt. Thomas David Parham will be held April 21, at 1 p.m. at the Little Creek Amphibious Base chapel. The Reverend Dr. Barry C. Black, U.S. Senate chaplain and retired U.S. Navy Chief of Chaplains will deliver the eulogy.

Parham, 87, was commissioned in 1944 and promoted to captain in February 1966. He was also the second black chaplain in the Navy.

Born March 21, 1920, in Newport News, Va., Parham earned a bachelor's degree from North Carolina Central University in 1941. He then graduated magna cum laude from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary in 1944, and was ordained by the United Presbyterian Church on May 17, 1944.

While five other members of his seminary class entered the Navy chaplaincy upon their graduation, Parham was told his application could not be accepted. He continued to work in a student pastorate in Youngstown, Ohio. Later that summer, he saw a newspaper photograph of a recently commissioned black chaplain. When he returned to the officer who had earlier rejected his application and asked why, he was told, "We can take your application now."

His first duty assignments included Naval Training School, Hampton, Va.; Camp Smalls at Great Lakes, Ill.; Manana Barracks, Hawaii; and the Naval Supply Center, Guam; ministering to exclusively black units.

Parham left active duty in 1946 and returned to his ministry in Youngstown where he served as pastor from 1946 to 1950, while remaining in the Naval Reserve.
He returned to active duty in January 1951, soon after the outbreak of the Korean War. From 1951 to 1956, he was the only black chaplain on active duty.

After he had been given the impression that a black chaplain would never go to sea duty, he married Eulalee Marion Cordice on June 1, 1951.

Subsequently, when he was to be stationed on board USS Valley Forge (LPH-8), a captain complained to the Chaplains Division that Parham would be the only chaplain on the ship while the only black Sailors were a few stewards: The belief that black chaplains were only for black Sailors was predominant. Then Chief of Chaplains Stanton Salisbury published an article in the Christian Century stating that the Chaplains Division had no plans to give Parham any segregated duty, demonstrating the progress made in the Chaplains Division and in the Navy.

Parham's other duty stations included Charleston Navy Yard, S.C.; Fleet Activities Sasebo, Japan; Naval Air Station Iwakuni, Japan; Menninger Foundation, Topeka, Kan.; First Marine Division, Camp Pendleton, Calif.; Amphibious Squadron 1 and Marine Corps Recruiting Depot, San Diego; Naval Air Station and Commander Fleet Air, Quonset Point, R.I.; Bureau of Naval Personnel, Washington; Naval Training Center, Bainbridge, Md.; and Chief, Pastoral Care Service, Naval Region Medical Center, Portsmouth, Va.

In 1969, he earned a Master of Divinity at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. At American University he received both a master's and a doctorate degree. Parham retired in April 1982.

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Capt. Thomas David Parham, the Navy’s first black Sailor to be promoted to the rank of captain, died April 16 in Norfolk, Va.
070419-N-0000X-003 File photo (April 19, 2007) - Capt. Thomas David Parham, the Navy's first black Sailor to be promoted to the rank of captain, died April 16 in Norfolk, Va. Parham, 87, was commissioned in 1944 and promoted to captain in February 1966. Funeral services will be held April 21, at 1 p.m., at the Little Creek Amphibious Base chapel. U.S. Navy photo
April 20, 2007
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