On This Page:
- Video: Reforming the Navy
- Collection Connection
- Learn More: The Zumwalt Revolution
- The Navy Today: Task Force One Navy
In the 1970s, the Navy experimented with different methods for addressing unequal opportunity and systemic racism in its ranks.
Video: Reforming the Navy
For an audio-described version, use the video below
USS Intrepid began a Human Relations Council in 1971, part of a broader reform program in the Navy. This handwritten note explains the purpose of the Council:
1. Identify and seek solutions of [sic] misunderstandings between racial groups.
and recommend cases of alleged discrimination and affronts to human dignity and make appropriate recommendations to right correct the situation.
3. Find ways to improve communications between individuals, between groups, and up & down the chain of command.
4. Invite suggestions which promote good morale
and make appropriate recommendations initiate and make initiate make specific recommendations.
Additional Human Relations Council documents are available in the papers of Chaplain Basil Struthers. Access the Struthers Papers via eMuseum.
Collection of the Intrepid Museum. Gift of Chaplain B.H. Struthers. A2018.47
Learn More: The Zumwalt Revolution
When the draft ended in the early 1970s, the Navy struggled to recruit and retain personnel.
Admiral Elmo Zumwalt was appointed Chief of Naval Operations to set a new course. Many sailors remember the Zumwalt years for the changes to appearance and grooming standards for Navy personnel. With the assistance of Lieutenant Commander Bill Norman, Zumwalt also tackled systemic inequality in the Navy.
Zumwalt and Norman implemented Navy-wide programs to reduce racial discrimination. On Intrepid, the Human Relations Council met weekly to address racial issues and improve communication on the ship. Council leadership was intentionally diverse. UPWARD (Understanding Personal Worth and Racial Dignity) was a diversity seminar introduced in late 1972. UPWARD courses were meant to foster dialogue and understanding between Black and white sailors.
The Zumwalt reforms established new educational opportunities for sailors of color. BOOST (Broadened Opportunity for Officer Selection and Training) gave sailors with low test scores a two-year training course to prepare them for officer school. The Navy also expanded career opportunities for women.
Zumwalt was a polarizing figure. Some Navy personnel believed these reforms would undermine discipline and military readiness. Younger sailors appreciated his efforts to understand their concerns and improve their lives. Zumwalt retired in 1974, but his work had a profound impact on the Navy for decades.
The Navy Today: Task Force One Navy
Over the past 50 years, internal efforts and external factors have reshaped the demographics of the U.S. military. Women and people of color are more fully represented in every branch of service, including the Navy. For example, since 1970, the percentage of Black men and women in the Navy has more than tripled.
However, service members still report discrimination in the workplace based on race, ethnicity and gender. In 2020, the Navy established a task force to examine the state of discrimination in the service. This was done in response to massive nationwide demonstrations against police killings of unarmed Black civilians. The goal of the task force was to identify barriers and recommend changes.
In 2021, the Navy released “Task Force One Navy.” The report identifies the Navy’s greatest challenge as the recruitment and retention of women and people of color in the officer corps. These losses ultimately lead to a lack of diversity at the highest levels of leadership.
The report proposes an expansion of NROTC recruitment in communities of color and the revival of BOOST. Like its Zumwalt-era predecessor, BOOST 2.0 will enroll candidates with low test scores in a course to prepare them for officer training school. Other recommendations include bias training, STEM recruitment and new hairstyle guidelines.
Some critics say the “One Navy” report shies away from a frank discussion of racism and sexism in the Navy, especially hate speech and hate group membership among service members. Although the Navy has become more diverse, many of the problems identified in the “One Navy” report echo criticism made by Black service members in the 1960s and 1970s.
Panel Photo: This is a description of the image printed on the panel for this stop at the museum.
Photo description: Hand-drawn poster on cream-colored paper. In large letters at the top, the poster says “Got a Problem? Bring it Home.” There is a cartoon drawing of a person kneeling. Arrows point at him from three sides. The bottom half of the poster says “Human Relations Council.”
Caption: Human Relations Council Poster, 1972.
Credit: Gift of Chaplain B.H. Struthers. A2018.47