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From the dawn of the U.S Navy, African-Americans have played a vital role in its history and have embodied the basic tenets of service and commitment to duty. At the same time, the African-American experience in Navy history is a story about breaking barriers, living through a segregated service, and overcoming limitations of opportunity on the path to what Admiral Elmo “Bud” Zumwalt called “One Navy.”
African-Americans were among the first sailors to serve as Loblolly Boys (precursors of today’s Hospital Corpsmen). Among these first medical Sailors was Joseph Anderson, a 16-year Loblolly Boy who served aboard the schooner USS Eagle in 1800.
On July 26, 1943, the first class of African-Americans entered Hospital Corps School in Great Lakes, Ill. Among the first Corpsmen in 1943 was John Andrew Haskins, Jr., who later earned distinction as the first African-American Corpsman awarded for heroism. On October 4, 1944, Haskins was the recipient of the Navy and Marine Corps Medal for heroic conduct following the explosion of the Naval Magazine, Port Chicago, Calif.
In April 1945, HA2c Ruth Isaacs, HA2c Katherine Horton, and HA2c Inez Patterson became the first African-American women to graduate Hospital Corps School (Bethesda, Md).
In October 1951, Hospitalman Josephine Delores Rosa reported aboard USS Maurice Rose, becoming the first African-American woman Corpsman to serve aboard a ship.
On November 1, 2007, Master Chief Laura A. Martinez became the first African-American and second woman to serve as Force Master Chief and Director of the Hospital Corps.
On September 23, 1944, Dr. Thomas Watkins, Jr., of Salisbury, N.C., became the first African-American dentist commissioned in the Navy Dental Corps.
On July 1, 1966, Cmdr. Thomas James of Pensacola, Fla., became the first African-American dental officer to retire from the regular Navy. He received his commission on April 14, 1951 and served most of his career with the Fleet Marine Force.
Cmdr. R. C. McMurdock, Class of 1970, was their first African-American graduate of the Naval Post Graduate Dental School. CAPT John Anderson graduated the following year and is reported to have served in the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery during the latter part of his career.
Recent scholarship has pointed to Dr. Richard Henry Green (1833-1877) of New Haven, Conn. as possibly the first African-American physician in the Navy. Green served as an Acting Assistant Surgeon in the Navy from 1863 to 1865.
Dr. Arthur Lee Thompson of Detroit, Mich., was sworn into the Navy on July 12, 1944 becoming the first African-American physician in the Navy.
In 1966, Lt. William Ross of Detroit, Mich., became the first black submarine doctor. He later became the first African American officer to receive the Golden Dolphin Award (1969).
Dr. Paul Stewart Green, of Manson, N.C., was the first African-American physician to reach the rank of Captain in the Navy (1968). When selected, he was one of only three black captains in all of the Navy.
On April 25, 1975, Donna P. Davis, of New York, N.Y., was commissioned as Lieutenant becoming the first black woman physician in the Navy.
Rear Adm. James Johnson of Wilmington, N.C., was the first black: Medical Officer of the Marine Corps (1998), commanding officer of NMC San Diego (2001) and Lead agent for TRICARE Region Nine (2001).
Vice Adm. Adam Robinson of Louisville, Ky., was the first African-American physician to serve as commander, National Naval Medical Center, Bethesda, Md. (July 2004), commander, Navy Medicine National Capital Area Region (October 2005). In September 2007, he became the first black Surgeon General of the Navy and Chief of the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery.
Before the Medical Service Corps was established in 1947, medical administrators, and allied scientists served in the Navy as Hospital Corps Officers and Hospital Volunteer Specialists. Among these MSC pioneers was African-American scientist James Hope Birnie who served as a Hospital Corps Officer in World War II.
In October 1975, Dr. John David Robinson, Houston, Texas, became the first black clinical psychologist in the Navy.
Dr. Doris Forte entered the Navy on April 1, 1976, earning distinction as the first black optometrist.
In January 1980, Dr. David Lawrence Kennedy was commissioned as the Navy’s first uniformed social worker. Kennedy retired as a Captain in 2004.
During the Civil War, African-Americans comprised twenty-five percent of the total naval force; not included in this statistic are five African-American women (Alice Kennedy, Sarah Kinno, Ellen Campbell, Betsy Young, and Dennise Downs) who served as nurses aboard the Navy’s “first” hospital ship, USS Red Rover.
Ms. Phyllis Mae Daley of New York, N.Y., was sworn into the Navy Reserve on March 8, 1945 earning the distinction as the first black navy nurse. A month later, Nurse Edith Mazie Devoe was commissioned in the Navy Reserve on April 18, 1945. Devoe later become the first black nurse in the Regular Navy when sworn in on January 6, 1948.
On October 23, 1968, Hazel Pauline McCree became the first African-American Nurse selected for full Commander.
In 1975, Cmdr. Julia O. Barnes became the first black nurse to receive an assignment as a Director of Nursing Services.
In September 1978, Joan Bynum became the first African-American captain the Nurse Corps and first female black officer in the Navy to attain rank of Captain.
On July 28, 1986, Capt. Julia O. Barnes became the first female African-American Nurse Corps Officer to assume the duty as Commanding Officer of a Naval Hospital (Naval Hospital Great Lakes).