The Military and Jim Crow

Were African-American doctors allowed to serve in the Navy?

In 1942 Bernard Whitfield Robinson (c. 1918–1972) became the first black commissioned officer in the U.S. Naval Reserve on June 18. The navy sought to increase the number of doctors in service and then offered commissions to medical students who, upon graduation, began tours of duty. After graduating from Harvard University, Robinson became the first black commissioned through the program, eventually serving as a doctor in the U.S. Naval Reserve. The Bureau of Naval Personnel, however, claimed that his commission had been a “slip.” Robinson reported for duty after the “Golden Thirteen” were commissioned in March 1944.


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