Camp Robert Smalls

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A Navy Captain inspects Service School personnel, 2 April 1943 at Camp Robert Smalls. (Official U.S. Navy Photograph, National Archives.)

Camp Robert Smalls was a United States Naval training facility, created pursuant to an order signed April 21, 1942 by Frank Knox, then Secretary of the Navy, for the purpose of training African-American seamen at a time when the USN was still segregated by race.[1]

The camp was located inside the Great Lakes Naval Training Center in Illinois and named for Robert Smalls, a black naval hero of the American Civil War.[2] The camp's first commander was Lieutenant Commander Daniel Armstrong, whose father had founded the Hampton Institute and had "brought him up to understand race problems."[3] The Navy began enlisting Negro seamen on June 1, 1942, and the first class of 277 enlistees began training at Camp Robert Smalls later that month.[1] Of that class, 222 completed the training successfully on September 3, 1942. 102 of those graduates were chosen to continue with specialized training, and the rest of the class was assigned to routine duties.[4]

The first classes of men to be trained at the camp had "no hope of being commissioned."[3] However, the Navy began training officer candidates at Camp Robert Smalls towards the end of 1943.[5]

Robert Smalls's great-grandson, Edward Estes Davidson, trained at Camp Robert Smalls,[6] as did Owen Dodson,[7] Larry Doby,[8] Clark Terry,[9] and Charles Sebree.[10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b MacGregor, Morris J. (December 1981). Integration of the Armed Forces, 1940-1965. Government Printing Office. pp. 67ff. ISBN 978-0-16-001925-8. Retrieved 13 September 2011.
  2. ^ Schneller, Robert John (April 2005). Breaking the color barrier: the U.S. Naval Academy's first Black midshipmen and the struggle for racial equality. NYU Press. p. 150. ISBN 978-0-8147-4013-2. Retrieved 13 September 2011.
  3. ^ a b Milner, Lucille B. (13 March 1944). "Jim Crow in the Army: February 1944". The New Republic. reprinted in Carson, Clayborne; Garrow, David J.; Kovach, Bill (2003). Reporting Civil Rights: American journalism, 1941-1963. Library of America. pp. 52–61. Retrieved 13 September 2011.
  4. ^ "Negroes Finish Course: First Groups of Naval Recruits End Basic Training". New York Times. 4 September 1942. p. 21. Missing or empty |url= (help)
  5. ^ Stillwell, Paul (31 May 2003). The Golden Thirteen: Recollections of the First Black Naval Officers. Naval Institute Press. pp. 39–41. ISBN 978-1-59114-840-1. Retrieved 13 September 2011.
  6. ^ Billingsley, Andrew (May 2007). Yearning to breathe free: Robert Smalls of South Carolina and his families. Univ of South Carolina Press. p. 202. ISBN 978-1-57003-686-6. Retrieved 13 September 2011.
  7. ^ Hatch, James V. (1 January 1995). Sorrow Is the Only Faithful One: The Life of Owen Dodson. University of Illinois Press. p. 93. ISBN 978-0-252-06477-7. Retrieved 13 September 2011.
  8. ^ Moore, Joseph Thomas (3 March 1988). Pride against prejudice: the biography of Larry Doby. ABC-CLIO. pp. 25–. ISBN 978-0-275-92984-8. Retrieved 13 September 2011.
  9. ^ Terry, Clark; Terry, Gwen (1 October 2011). Clark: The Autobiography of Clark Terry. University of California Press. p. 67. ISBN 978-0-520-26846-3. Retrieved 13 September 2011.
  10. ^ "Charles Sebree 1914–1985". Cengage Learning. Retrieved 21 February 2016.

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