Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

The Forgotten First: B-L and the Integration of the Modern Navy

Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

The Forgotten First: B-L and the Integration of the Modern Navy

Article excerpt

The Forgotten First: B-l and the Integration of the Modern Navy. By Alex Albright. (Fountain, N.C.: R. A. Fountain, 2013. Pp. 194. Paper, $20.00, ISBN 978-0-9842102-2-0.)

Scholars have increasingly stressed the wartime experience, both personal and professional, of African Americans in World War II. Texts such as Melton A. McLaurin's The Marines of Montford Point: America's First Black Marines (Chapel Hill, 2007) rescue African American men's military participation from obscurity by documenting the participation and perspective of black enlistees in what had been the last all-white branch of the U.S. military to integrate. Alex Albright's The Forgotten First: B-1 and the Integration of the Modern Navy is a commendable addition to this historical trend. Using oral interviews, Albright documents the rise of B-l, one of the navy's two all-black pre-flight training school bands, and the experiences of the talented musicians who volunteered for service in April 1942. The dawn of the twentieth century, noted by Rayford W. Logan as the "nadir" of race relations in the country (see The Negro in American Life and Thought: The Nadir, 1877-1901 [New York, 1954]), effectively marked the "re-segregation" of naval forces (p. 25). While in the last half of the nineteenth century, blacks represented 20-30 percent of navy enlistees, "[b]y 1920, blacks accounted for less than 1/2 of 1 [percent] of the total Navy force" (p. 25). Twenty years later, 4,007 blacks made up 2.3 percent of the navy, of which the majority were "messmen and steward's mates" or '"seagoing bellhops,"' according to the black press (p. 29). Into this racial milieu was born B-l.

Focusing on the navy's eastern regional training school, located on the campus of University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC), Albright deftly mediates the national, state, and regional racial and sociopolitical landscapes that framed the lives of bandsmen. …

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