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African-Americans Proudly Serving in WWII

USS Mason and
Black Sailors in the WWII Navy

Few Americans are familiar with the USS Mason, a WWII warship manned by a predominantly black crew that served as a role model for the integration of U.S. Navy ships.

Sailors of the USS Mason,
12 x 18"


USS Mason facts:

  • Ship launched November 17, 1943 at Boston Navy Yard's Pier 6. The ship wasn't commissioned until March, 1944.
  • The USS Mason (DE-529) was a Destroyer Escort. Length: 289'5", Beam: 35'1", Draft: 11'10". Speed of 21 knots, with 6 officers, and 150 black enlisted men. By the time the Mason was decommissioned, all the chief petty officers were black.
  • The ship escorted six convoys across the North Atlantic.
  • The Mason was called "Eleanor's Folly," a reference to First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, a vocal advocate of desegregation of the armed forces.
  • The ship's white captain, Bill Blackford, affectionately referred to as "Big Bill" by his crew, was the great grandson of abolitionist Mary Berkeley Minor Blackford.
  • Submarine chaser PC-1264 was commissioned during WWII with an all black crew, including the Navy's first black officer, who captained the vessel. (see book about this ship listed below)
  • Immediately after the war, the Mason was used as a training and experimental ship.
  • The Mason was sold for scrap in 1947.
  • In February, 1995, surviving crewmen were awarded letters of commendation for their meritorious service and steadfast devotion to duty.
  • Over 150,000 blacks served in the US Navy during WWII. 

Books about the USS Mason


DVD based on the true and heroic story of the USS Mason, a Navy battleship manned by an African-American crew during WWII, when segregation was still enforced.

Based on the book Proudly We Served by Mary Pat Kelly.


Proudly We Served:
The Men of the USS Mason

by Mary Pat Kelly

This book tells the story of these brave African-American men and their contributions to the Allied victory. Their success had a direct impact on President Harry S Truman's decision to integrate all of America's armed forces after the war. Recommended in 1944 for a commendation for their heroic actions during a violent storm, the Mason sailors finally received that commendation in 1995, after the publication of this book in hardcover and the release of a companion documentary. The men and ship have been further honored by the Navy's decision to name a new destroyer (DDG 87) after the Mason and propagate its proud heritage into the twenty-first century.
Hardcover, 220 pages
List price $15.95

Better Than Good: 
A Black Sailor's War, 1943 -1945

     Author Adolph Newton became one of the very few African Americans to serve in the general enlisted ranks rather than as a mess attendant. In this intense, long-overdue memoir, he describes his life as a black seaman on an integrated warship, explaining how he dealt with discrimination and personal freedom and how, despite the difficulties, he developed a lasting affection for the Navy. Newton's story is representative of a generation of African Americans who came of age during the war, needing to prove themselves by fighting for a country that had denied them the full benefits of citizenship. A landmark work, it is the first memoir to be published by a black sailor in the forefront of Roosevelt's order to integrate the Navy. Based on journals he kept during the war, the book retains the raw emotions and expressions of a young sailor in the 1940s. He speaks candidly of race relations and how his views evolved from conversations with southern blacks, confrontations with prejudiced whites, and encounters with Europeans. And his story does not stop at war's end. Unable to find civilian employment that utilized his technical skills, he reenlisted in 1946 only to find the Navy more rigid than during the war. His reflections on life as a young black man who knew that just being good was not good enough make an important contribution to the record.
Hardcover, 208 pages
List price $28.95

On Board the USS Mason:
The World War II Diary of James A. Dunn

Hardcover, 130 pages

Black Company:
The Story of Subchaser 1264
     With the launching of Subchaser 1264 in the spring of 1944, the U.S. Navy began a social experiment designed to test the ability of a group of African Americans to live, fight, and survive under wartime conditions on a small combatant. At the time blacks served only as messmen in the navy, but ships were being built faster than men could be trained so the navy desperately needed manpower. Over strong opposition, PC 1264 went to sea with a crew of fifty black enlisted men and five white officers. The ship's captain and author of this book, Eric Purdon, had only been to sea for ten days before assuming command. Purdon tells the story of his ship as it was lived in this strangely condensed society. Filled with drama, comedy, and emotion, it is the story of a commanding officer fearful that his inexperience would jeopardize the aspirations of an entire people, of a crew quick to resent a slur but quicker to react to enemy submarines, and of a young black officer assigned to the ship in 1945 who later became the first black rear admiral in the navy. Purdon offers a play-by-play description of shipboard life, including the intensive anti-submarine convoy escort operations in which the crew amply demonstrated their abilities. With the success of PC 1264 and the USS Mason and her African-American crew, the navy was able to move more rapidly toward total integration.
List price $16.95

Doris Miller: A Silent Medal of Honor
by Vicki Gail Miller
Biography of Doris Miller, an African-American sailor from Waco, Texas, who survived the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, defended his ship, and rescued several crewmen. (Played by Cuba Gooding Jr. in the film Pearl Harbor)
List Price $15.95


USS Mason Web Sites:

  • Proudly We Served Web Site, well-organized and informative site. Provides monthly history of the ship's service, photos, and lots of great information.
  • Photos of captain, crew, and ship at commissioning ceremony and during training. From the Naval Historical Center web site.

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