Segregation at Sea

Theodore Jackson: Well, race relations for me at that time…they weren’t too good.

Henry Mouzon: The military was really Jim Crow then, you know? The white boys and us didn’t sleep together. But yet, still we fight together. (laughs)

Narrator: On combat ships like Intrepid, Black men could only work as stewards, cooking and cleaning for officers.

Eugene Smith Jr.: I worked in the officers’ dining room, serving officers. You’re getting very little rest because you’re getting up at five o’clock in the morning.

John Seagraves: So they assigned me to this room and I said, what is my duty? Well, you’re going to have to shine his shoes and make up his bed and do this and clean that, I says I didn’t join the Navy to be a flunky. He said, Well, either you’re gonna do it or you’re gonna to go to the brig. I said well, put me in the brig.

Mouzon: I didn’t feel too good about it, you know? Seeing that they could—see, they would send them to school, electrician, plumber, and all that. But we couldn’t get that.

Narrator: Black crew members reported complicated—sometimes strained—relationships with sailors and officers.

Seagraves: They didn’t try to associate with us and neither we decide to associate with them.

Jackson: If I walked down to another division, going someplace, somebody might call me a *****. Somebody might throw something.

Smith: Most of the officers appreciated us. There were some had an attitude, you know, but you work around that. Being from the South you learn how to work around.

Mouzon: And some white guys, I really believe that they had hated that we were separated. Because every chance they get through their work and all, some of them would come to our dormitory every night and talk with us until it was time to turn the lights out.

Narrator: Many Black men in uniform wondered: what am I risking my life for?

Jackson: Tokyo Rose, she was in Japan at the time, and she was playing Count Basie, Duke Ellington, man, she’s getting down. And she says, you, you colored boys, I don’t know what you’re doing over there. When you come home, they’re going to treat you just like they’ve been.

Seagraves: I was 17 years old at the time, but I just I had great resentments from what was going on from the beginning of being there, you know.

Mouzon: Man, I was disappointed. Because I figured that that war would have brang people, you know, white and black together. When I came out, it was just like it was when I went in. I was disappointed. Because I said, “Now here we went to war, and win the war, and still Jim Crow.”