Four Generations of Black Americans in the United States Navy
Four Generations of Black Americans in the United States Navy
Published March 4, 2021 By : USBE Online
It is extraordinary to find four generations within an American family that has demonstrated commitment to the Navy and Marine Corps service. The Williams family is one example. The story of the first two generations of the Williams family has been documented.
Master Chief Melvin G. Williams, Sr. and Vice Admiral Melvin G. Williams, Jr. are co-authors of the leadership book, Navigating the Seven Seas, published by the Naval Institute Press 2011.
Since 2012 the book has been included on the “Navy Reading Program” list by the U.S. Navy. In 2019 the book made the Washington Post list of “Washington Bestsellers Top 10 non-fiction books”. The co-authors are noted as the only African American father and son in U.S. Navy history. The father reached a top enlisted rank of E-9 (Master Chief), and the son came to a top officer rank of O-9 (Vice Admiral).
Master Chief Melvin G. Williams, Sr. served in the US Navy from 1951 to 1978, retiring as the Command Master Chief of a warship. Although he graduated at the top of his technical High School in 1951, when he enlisted in the Navy, he was relegated to the Steward Branch (comprised of primarily African Americans, Filipinos, and others of Asian descent).
As the cooks who also were charged to care for the officers’ chores, he studied his craft and endeavored to become the best. Williams’s duties included service during the Korean War, the Cold War against the former Soviet Union, and the Vietnam War.
He was assigned to submarines, surface ships, and aircraft carriers. The early 1970s were turbulent times in our Nation and Navy concerning race relations and equal rights. Williams was assigned as the Leading Chief of the Secretary of the Navy and Chief of the Naval Operations Dining Facility in the Pentagon. He was one of the few African Americans closely connected with the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) – Admiral Elmo R. Zumwalt, Jr. The CNO frequently sought Williams’ advice to address the racial situation within the US Navy (e.g., USS Kitty Hawk, USS Constellation, and other units were experiencing racial demonstrations).
Williams is noted to have advanced equal opportunity for all Navy sailors involved with food service. In June 1974, as a Senior Chief Petty Officer (E-8 pay grade), he submitted his thoughts (point paper) on an initiative to combine the Commissary man (CS) enlisted rating- comprised of primarily Caucasian sailors who worked in a relatively respected skill area, with the Steward (SD) enlisted rating- consist of mainly minority sailors who worked in a much lesser-regarded skill area.
The new rating would be the Mess Management Specialist (MS) skill area. In December 1974, the Chief of Naval Operations decided to merge the Commissary man (CS) and the Steward (SD) ratings. The net effect was to end discrimination, which was occurring within the minority Steward rating, and to eventually create equal opportunity for all sailors who served in the new Mess Management Specialist (MS) rating. 30-years later, this enlisted rating was changed to the Culinary Specialist (CS) rating, and it continues today. In 2009 Master Chief Williams became the first enlisted member to receive the Black Engineer of the Year (BEYA) Stars & Stripes Award – representing the US Navy.
Vice Admiral Melvin G. Williams, Jr. served in the US Navy from 1978 to 2010, retiring as the Commander, US Second Fleet. On January 19, 1991, while serving as Executive Officer on USS LOUISVILLE (SSN 724), the submarine participated in the initial combat operations of Operation Desert Storm (adversaries in Iraq), becoming the first US nuclear-powered submarine in history to use weapons in combat operations – TOMAHAWK cruise missiles.
In 1994, he became the first African American in history to Command a Nuclear Powered Strategic Ballistic Missile submarine (USS NEBRASKA – SSBN 739 Gold crew). As Commanding Officer, his team earned the top US Navy and US Air Force Strategic Performance Award in the Nation (the Omaha Trophy), becoming the first Ohio-class submarine in history to win the prestigious Omaha Trophy award for excellence.
The sub also earned the Meritorious Unit Commendation and the Battle Efficiency ‘E’ award for excellence. He is one of the U.S. Navy and Submarine Force “Centennial Seven”- the first seven African Americans to Command a U.S. Navy submarine in the early 100-year history of the US Submarine Force. Following the September 11, 2001 attacks on the US, he served as Chief of Staff (second in Command) for the KITTY HAWK Aircraft Carrier Strike Group, whereby on October 7, 2001, the Strike Group engaged during the initial combat operations of Operation Enduring Freedom (adversaries in Afghanistan).
In 2006, he became the sixth African American in the US Navy’s history to reach the Vice Admiral rank (3 stars). He was a BEYA Award recipient in 1995 and was inducted into the BEYA STEM Hall of Fame in 2011. He is a graduate of the US Naval Academy class of 1978. He is one of four African Americans to make Flag Officer from his class – with the other three being: Admiral Cecil Haney, Vice Admiral Anthony Winns, and Rear Admiral Victor Guillory. Of significance, the US Naval Academy class of 1978 yielded 3 of the 14 (21%) African Americans in the US Navy’s history to achieve 3-star and 4-star rank*.
The Williams family has two other generations with current and pending Naval Service.
Colonel Ahmed T. Williamson was commissioned into the US Marine Corps as a graduate of the US Naval Academy class of 1994. He is the grandson of Master Chief Williams and the nephew of Vice-Admiral Williams. Colonel Williamson has performed duties in several various capacities and traveled throughout the world, participating in combat operations, contingency missions, and various training exercises. He completed a successful assignment as the Commanding Officer of the Marine Corps Officer Candidates School (OCS) in Quantico, Virginia. Colonel Williamson has been nominated (March 2021) for promotion to Brigadier General’s rank while serving in the assignment as Military Assistant, Office of the Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps, Headquarters, United States Marine Corps, Washington, District of Columbia.
Elijah Williamson is the son of Colonel Williamson, the great-grandson of Master Chief Williams, and the nephew of Vice-Admiral Williams. Elijah Williamson serves as an enlisted member of the US Marine Corps. In October 2018, he was recognized by his Command (at the time – U.S Marine Corps Forces Korea) as a non-commissioned Officer and Marine of the Quarter. The non-commissioned officer and Marine of the Quarter board select each Marine for their overall performance due to their significant contribution to mission accomplishment and their professional example.
Nilah Williamson is the daughter of Colonel Williamson, the great-granddaughter of Master Chief Williams, and the niece of Vice-Admiral Williams. Having been accepted to the US Naval Academy, Nilah will become a Midshipman in the summer of 2021, with the Naval Academy class of 2025. She earned her private pilot’s license while in high school before she made a driver’s license. Her flight instructor was Rear Admiral A.J. ‘Artie’ Johnson, Jr., US Navy (retired) and US Naval Academy graduate – class of 1979. Johnson is the only African American to make Flag Officer from his Naval Academy class.
Note an article on Nilah Williamson: *US Navy’sSesqui-Centennial 14’: Although the US Navy was established in 1775, it was not until the American Civil War era that the 3-star and 4-star ranks were based. The US Navy’s 3-star rank (Vice Admiral) was established in 1864, and the 4-star rank (Admiral) in 1866. Within the first 150 years (sesquicentennial) of each position (the year 2014 and 2016, respectively), only 14 African Americans in the US Navy achieved 3-star rank and 4-star rank.
This distinguished group is the ‘Sesqui-Centennial 14’, and they represent less than 2 percent of the total 3-star and 4-star Officers during these 150 years. The chronological order of selection to 3-star rank is noted below. Three of the Officers went on the achieve 4-stars. Of significance, the US Naval Academy class of 1978 yielded 3 of the 14 (21%) African Americans in US Navy’s history to achieve 3-star and 4-star rank – noted in italics (numbers 6, 9, and 10).
1. SAMUEL L. GRAVELY JR (Surface Warfare) – First African American to Command a US Navy warship, achieve Flag rank, and achieve three stars in US Navy history.
2. J. PAUL REASON (Surface Warfare) – First African American in US Navy history to achieve four stars.
3. WALTER JACKSON DAVIS JR (Aviation Warfare).
4. EDWARD MOORE JR (Surface Warfare).
5. DAVID L. BREWER III (Surface Warfare).
6. MELVIN GENE WILLIAMS JR (Submarine Warfare) – one of the U.S. Navy and Submarine Force “Centennial Seven”- first seven African Americans to Command a submarine in the early 100-year history of US Submarine Force.
7. ADAM MAYFIELD ROBINSON JR (Medical Corps).
8. DERWOOD C. CURTIS (Surface Warfare).
9. ANTHONY LEE WINNS (Aviation Warfare).
10. CECIL E. HANEY (Submarine Warfare) – Second African American in US Navy history to achieve four stars, and the first African American in US Military history to serve as a Combatant Commander (US Strategic Command). One of the U.S. Navy and Submarine Force “Centennial Seven”- first seven African Americans to Command a submarine in the early 100-year history of the US Submarine Force.
11. MICHELLE J. HOWARD (Surface Warfare) – Third African American in US Navy history to achieve four stars. The first woman in US Navy history to Command a warship and reach four stars.
12. BRUCE E. GROOMS (Submarine Warfare) – One of the U.S. Navy and Submarine Force “Centennial Seven”- first seven African Americans to Command a submarine in the early 100-year history of the US Submarine Force.
13. JAMES W. CRAWFORD III (Judge Advocate General Corps).
14. KEVIN D. SCOTT (Aviation Warfare).