Reforming the Navy Transcript

Narrator: In 1946, the Navy ended segregation of working, training and living conditions. Official Navy policy branded racial discrimination “a serious waste of human resources,” not to be tolerated. However…

Errol Kellum: Uhhh, wish you hadn’t brought that one up. (laughs)

Agustin Ramos: There was a lot of racism in the sense of ignorance more than anything else, among the crew.

Richard Johnson: They didn’t want to accept me in there because of my color, I guess.

Ramos: The system in the ship represented society as a whole.

Kellum: The time was a transition time, so a lot of transition was still going on. When you say transitions, meaning everybody’s not going along with the transition.

Narrator: In the 1970s, more than two decades after desegregation, racial divisions remained. Under Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Zumwalt and Commander Bill Norman, the Navy began to address the systemic racial problems plaguing the service. These reformers hoped to boost morale, improve enlistment rates, and fix the Navy’s reputation as the whitest branch in the military.

Admiral Elmo Zumwalt: Better knowledge of the real hidden form of discrimination in race relations. I think nowadays most of us do not have conscious prejudices but it’s amazing the amount of subconscious prejudice that everyone has until you’re really taught the nature of it.

Narrator: The first reform program implemented on Intrepid was the Human Relations Council. These councils were supposed to provide a forum to address racial and interpersonal problems on the ship.

The council met weekly to discuss a range of issues. Crew members raised problems with racial bias on the ship. The council also heard general problems, like complaints about cleanliness in the mess or missing laundry.

Later, the ship offered UPWARD, a diversity training course. UPWARD was designed to facilitate dialogue and understanding between Black and white crew members. The Navy also pursued recruitment programs in Black neighborhoods and historically Black colleges.

Not everyone welcomed these reforms. Critics believed they eroded Navy discipline. Admiral Zumwalt was called before Congress for questioning. Despite the opposition, this era of reform reshaped the Navy for decades to come.