BY WALTER OPINDE
Samuel Gravely Jr. was the U.S. Navy’s first African-American admiral and the first black to serve as a fleet commander. He was the first black American in the U.S. Navy to provide services aboard a fighting ship as an officer, the first fleet commander, the first to command a Navy ship, and the first to become a flag officer; and later retired while serving as a vice admiral.
Born on 4th June, 1922, in Richmond, Virginia, Gravely was the older among his five siblings; the children of Mary Gravely and a postal worker Samuel Gravely Sr. He attended Virginia Union University. However, he dropped out of school before graduating, in 1942, to join the Naval Reserve. He earlier, in 1940, attempted to enlist in the U.S. Army but was turned away due to an alleged heart murmur.
Upon the completion of his basic training at the Naval Station Great Lakes, Illinois, Samuel joined the V-12-Navy College Training Program at the Los Angeles’ University of California. After his graduation from the University, he joined and completed training at Midshipmen’s School, Columbia University and later commissioned as an ensign on 14th November, 1944. This commissioning came merely 8 months after the “Golden Thirteen” became the first group of Black officers in the U.S. Navy.
Admiral Samuel Gravely Jr., who retired from the Navy in 1980, repeatedly broke the grounds during his 38-year career, recording a series of firsts in naval education and appointments to increasingly commendable commands. He, in 1962, became the first black officer to command a U.S.-based Warship. This warship patrolled the Pacific Barriers between the Midway Islands and Aleutian.
The following year, he was the first African-American, alongside another black officer, to attend the Naval War College, a ten-month course of study for the Navy’s most auspicious and talented officers. In 1971, he became a rear admiral and the commander of the Jouett (a guided-missile frigate), which cruised off the coast of Vietnam.
By 1976, Samuel Gravely Jr. was appointed by President Gerald Ford to be the Vice-Admiral, in charge of the Navy’s 3rd Fleet; a commander of a hundred warships and more than sixty thousand sailors and marines based at the Pearl Harbor.
Admiral Gravely Jr. received a Bronze Star, the Legion of Merit, Navy Commendation Medal, and Meritorious Service Medal. Between different assignments at the sea, Admiral Samuel Gravely worked in Washington, D.C. on defense coordination and satellite communications, and later retired in 1980 while serving as the Director of the Defense Communications Agency in Washington, D.C., overseeing the communications linkage network at Washington, linking the American Forces with all other allied bases worldwide.
After suffering from stroke for a couple of years, Admiral Gravely Samuel died on 22nd October, 2004, at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. His body is buried at the Arlington National Cemetery.
Read more of the story via: www.blackpast.org/aah/gravely-samuel-lee-1922-2004
Jennifer, B. (October 26, 2004). Samuel L. Gravely Jr., First Black Admiral in Navy. New York Times.