My Coast Guard
Commentary | Feb. 5, 2021

African Americans in the Coast Guard: Little known facts

By Coast Guard Historian

African Americans in the Coast Guard: Little known facts

  1. 1790 - African Americans have served since 1790, including in every major American conflict.
  2. 1795 - The first documented cutterman to lose his life was African American.
  3. 1812 - African-American cuttermen were among the first POWs in service history, captured on cutter James Madison by overwhelming Royal Navy forces during the War of 1812.
  4. 1826 - An African-American slave woman oversaw operation of Cape Florida Light, becoming the first minority woman to oversee a federal installation.
  5. 1836 - The first African-American Coast Guardsman to die in combat was a slave who gave his life defending the Cape Florida Lighthouse during the Seminole War.
  6. 1850s - African-American teenagers were assigned to oversee lightships located in Virginia and North Carolina. They were the youngest individuals to oversee Federal assets in U.S. history.
  7. 1865 - The first African-American officer commissioned into a U.S. sea service was Michael Healy, whose Revenue Cutter Service commission was signed by Abraham Lincoln in March 1865.
  8. 1870 - The first of many African-American lighthouse keepers appointed, the first African American to oversee a federal installation.
  9. 1876 - African-American surfman Jeremiah Munden was among the first men to die in the line of duty in the history of the U.S. Lifesaving Service.
  10. 1877 - Lt. Michael Healy takes command of Cutter Chandler becoming first African-American commanding officer of a federal vessel.
  11. 1880 - Richard Etheridge became the first African-American Keeper appointed to a U.S. Lifesaving Station (Pea Island). He was the first African American to command a federal base of operations and his surfmen were the first African Americans honored for heroism when they posthumously received the Gold Lifesaving Medal for an 1896 rescue.
  12. 1898 - During the Spanish-American War, African-American cuttermen aboard Cutter Hudson were awarded the Congressional Bronze Medal becoming the first recognized for combat valor.
  13. 1918 - Ten crewmembers of the torpedoed Cutter Tampa were the first African Americans in the Coast Guard to receive the Purple Heart Medal.
  14. 1919 - Cutter Yocona became the first U.S. sea service vessel with an integrated crew of black enlisted men and white officers and non-commissioned officers.
  15. 1922 - George Pruden advanced to chief boatswain’s mate when appointed officer-in-charge of Pea Island Lifesaving Station, becoming the first minority chief petty officer in the service.
  16. 1928 - Clarence Samuels took command of cutter AB-15, becoming the first African-American enlisted ship captain in a U.S. military service. In World War II, he received an officer’s commission and became the first African American to command a cutter in a combat zone.
  17. World War II-A) First African-American women to serve in Coast Guard uniform as members of the SPARs. B) First African American commissioned officers of modern Coast Guard to command cutters. C) Cutter Sea Cloud becomes the first officially desegregated U.S. ship with shared mess area and bunk space as well as mixed enlisted, non-commissioned officer and officer ranks. D) African American Coast Guardsmen serve in every theater of operations and awarded the Navy & Marine Corps Medal, Bronze Star Medal, Navy Commendation Medal, Purple Heart Medal and Silver Lifesaving Medal.
  18. 1955 - Javis Wright is first African American admitted to the Coast Guard Academy.
  19. 1966 - Merle Smith becomes the first African American graduate of the Coast Guard Academy. He served in Vietnam becoming the first African American to command a U.S. ship in combat and second to receive the Bronze Star.
  20. 1998 - Vincent Patton became the first Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard and Erroll Brown became the service’s first African American flag officer.
  21. 2010 - Manson Brown became the Service’s first African American Vice Admiral

African American cutter namesakes:

Charles David, Warren Deyampert, Richard Etheridge, Alex Haley, Michael Healy, Oliver Henry, Olivia Hooker, Angela McShan and Emlen Tunnell.