B-1: How NC A&T and UNC Integrated the Modern US Navy

When World War II broke out, African Americans were still relegated to service in the U.S. Navy at mess rank only. B-1, a 45-piece band comprised primarily of students at NC A & T, was used to integrate the Navy’s ranks, becoming the first blacks to serve in the modern Navy at a general rating. Their service began at Norfolk for training and continued at Chapel Hill, where they were assigned to serve the Navy’s preflight training school established on the UNC campus there. But because of the strict segregation laws and customs of the time, the bandsmen had to find quarters in the local black community. Every day for 33 months they marched about 2 miles to campus, rain or shine, to play for the raising of colors for the white cadets. For the rest of the morning, they practiced and played marches for the cadets as they changed classes. At lunchtime, they marched back to their quarters as they could not be fed on the whites-only campus.

            Securing the band’s service on the UNC campus was made possible only by a carefully crafted coalition of leaders, including Gov. J. Melville Broughton, UNC President Frank Porter Graham, Chapel Hill’s black community leaders, and the Presidents of NC A & T, NC College in Durham, and Fayetteville State. (The Navy had directed that a black band also be established for the preflight school at the University of Georgia campus, but that was blocked by Georgia’s Gov. Talmadge.) The bandsmen recruited for B-1 had to be excellent musicians, intelligent, and aware that they were part of an experiment that could fail spectacularly if any of them reacted "wrong" to the affronts they would suffer when being denied seats at a restaurant or moved to the back of a bus.

            Local blacks at the time saw the band’s presence on campus as a sign that things were changing: they were the first non-servant blacks to work regularly on the campus, and throughout the black community in Chapel Hill they were seen as a sign of hope that one day the children of the campuses maids, janitors, clothes washers and cooks could enroll at the university. And every morning, as they marched to campus, the streets of Chapel Hill’s black community were lined with families watching them with pride as they paraded to work.

            B-1 was one of over 100 bands of African Americans used by the Navy during the war. They were the first; they were the youngest; and, because they were so talented both as musicians and as marching bandsmen, they were the only one that served without having had to attend a music school. And they were so good that the Navy transferred them from Chapel Hill in May 1944 to Pearl Harbor and the largest posting of African-American sailors in the world, where they were expected to help quell racial disturbances that were threatening the domestic peace that had been obtained in Hawaii.

            Their story, however, is about much more than just their service. To better understand it, Albright will summarize the history of blacks and musicians in the U.S. military and explain the complicated racial dynamics of North Carolina, where black and white students from the state’s colleges had been working towards integration for nearly a decade before the war broke out.

            This lecture includes a power point presentation of photos and documents from the period as well as parts of recordings made by the band while in Hawaii.


lectern, microphone, digital projector, DVD player