Black sailors served on board the aircraft carrier Intrepid (in commission from 1943 to 1974) and the submarine Growler (1958–1964) throughout each ship’s entire Navy career. The experiences of black sailors—as well as the Navy’s approach to race and racism—underwent enormous shifts during these years.
President Harry S. Truman desegregated the U.S. military in 1948. However, the U.S. Navy remained almost entirely white for decades. In 1971, only 5.3% of enlisted sailors were black. (By contrast, that number was 17% in 2017.) Even after the armed forces were integrated, sailors of color faced ongoing discrimination. Racial unrest roiled a few ships, including Intrepid. By the 1970s, the Navy began to implement programs aimed at changing attitudes about race, and worked to improve advancement and career opportunities for sailors of color.
As part of our oral history project, we’ve interviewed a number of black former crew members who describe a range of experiences with racism. Some crew members describe pervasive discrimination and hostility, while others report experiencing few incidents of overt racism.
Richard Johnson served on board Intrepid as a yeoman from 1955 until 1959. In this clip from his oral history interview, he describes an incident from 1954 in which a white officer changed his orders.
The Intrepid Museum is committed to preserving the stories of crew members of color through our collections of artifacts, archives, and oral histories. If you served on board Intrepid and have artifacts, photos, or stories to share, please contact us at email@example.com