Unit Details

Garrison - Support/ Material
1942 - 1945

The U.S. Navy B-1 Band was officially formed on May 27, 1942, when 44 young men were sworn into service at Raleigh, North Carolina. "We said our 'I do's" at the old train station there," recalled Huey Lawrence, who like most of his mates had traveled the day before by bus from Greensboro. Soon after their swearing in to service, they boarded a train for Norfolk as, collectively, the first African Americans to serve in the modern Navy at any general rank. Prior to their enlistment, blacks had served the modern Navy only as stewards or mess attendants. Although their service throughout the war was as a segregated unit, the establishment of the B-1 Band marked the first significant move towards integration of the modern U.S. Navy.

Yet, the B-1 Band was forgotten by the Navy and remains to this day ignored by contemporary students of American, military, and black history. How this band of integration pioneers slipped through the net of history is hard to explain, but it seems clear that the official history of the Navy's first step out of its dark ages is tied to Secretary of Navy Frank Knox's approval, on April 21, 1942, of a plan to train black sailors at what has since come to be known as the Great Lakes Training Center. That official history, however, ignores the chain of events already in motion that would lead to the B-1's formation well before the establishment of Camp Robert Smalls, the first of the Great Lakes training facilities. The day before Knox's official announcement, a telegram from four black civic leaders in Chapel Hill had already approved the housing of a proposed band of black North Carolinians, already being recruited, to be attached to the Navy's soon-to-be-opened PreFlight School on the campus of the University of North Carolina.

When Knox had announced on April 7, 1942, that the Navy would accept enlistments of black volunteers in all ratings of the Navy, Marines, and Coast Guard, the B-1 was already being formed, with the idea that Bernard Mason, band director at North Carolina A&T College, would be its director. "In early February 1942, I was contacted by the Navy with the idea of the band," remembered James B. Parsons, who was band director at Greensboro's Dudley High School and would later become the B-1's leader. Parsons' own personal story defies Navy historical records, too: "Between Pearl Harbor and Christmas 1941, I and several friends tried to enlist in the Navy. They accepted us, but didn't know what to do with us. Our enlistments were approved in December 1941. I finished out the semester, hopeful that I'd be in the Navy soon after."

Yet, the official Navy record says that black enlistments at non-galley ranks did not begin until June 1, 1942, four days after the men of B-1 had been sworn in to duty, nearly six weeks after most had enlisted.

Because of obvious omissions in the official records of the Navy, it's easy to understand why contemporary historians would grant the distinction of having broken down this color barrier to the sailors who trained at the Great Lakes bases, beginning in August 1942, nearly a month after the B-1 had finished its training and had been, in fact, already in service in Chapel Hill for two weeks.

Still, even after the Army-Navy-Marine Corps School of Music honored the B-1 in 1981 with a program at the Norfolk Naval Amphibious Base Theater that should have righted the history books, no one, it seems, took much notice. The official Center of Military History publication Integration of the Armed Forces, 1940-1965, published in 1985, makes no mention of B-1. But the epitome of historical confusion over this issue is probably the claim made in the program notes to a 2003 celebration in Chicago of the "Great Lakes Experience," where Roger Holt, one of the B-1's own, has his personal autobiography re-written to state that he was part of the "first Black Naval Band Unit at Great Lakes."

Unit Web Links
Navy B-1 Band

Navy B-1 Band Muster List
45 Members Who Served in This Unit

  • Gibson, William R., PO3, (1942-1945)
  • Gilmer, John Samuel, PO3, (1942-1945)
  • Holloway, Simeon O., PO3, (1942-1945)
  • Jones, Richard Henry Lee, PO3, (1942-1945)
  • Laikin, Benny D., PO3, (1942-1945)
  • Lake, Roy H., PO2, (1942-1945)
  • Mason, John, PO3, (1942-1945)
  • Morrow, Calvin F., PO3, (1942-1945)
  • Sellers, Robert E., PO3, (1942-1945)
  • White, Jewitt Lorenzo, PO3, (1942-1945)
  • Woods, Charles L., PO2, (1942-1945)
  • Yourse, James Clarence, PO3, (1942-1945)
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World War II Victory Medal
The World War II Victory Medal commemorates military service during the Second World War.
Asiatic/Pacific Campaign Medal
The Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal was awarded for for qualifying service within the Asiatic-Pacific Theater of Operations between December 7, 1941, and March 2, 1946, under any of the following condi ... More
American Campaign Medal
The American Campaign Medal was awarded for For thirty days service outside the Continental United States but within the American Theater of Operations between December 7, 1941, and March 2, 1946; or, ... More
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