The Story of "The Forgotten First U.S. Navy B-1 Band and the Integration of the Modern Navy"

Gallery of Images:
Chapel Hill
Post-World War II


Muster List

US Navy B-1 Band
When the 40+ young men left Raleigh for Norfolk on the morning of May 27, 1942, they were headed for basic training. A few were recent college graduates, a few recent high school graduates. They knew they were entering World War II, and they also were stepping into history, becoming on that May day the first African Americans to serve in the modern U.S. Navy in any capacity other than galley work.

Today, 68 years later, 12 members of what became the U.S. Navy B-1 Band survive, but the Navy's records erroneously award the distinction of integrating the modern Navy to the sailors whose service began at the Chicago-area bases known as the Great Lakes Training Centers.

How the Navy lost its history is less important to the men of the B-1 than is making sure their own stories are known.

*Contact B1 Band President:  

*Contact B1 Band Web Master:

Chapel Hill Photos

U.S. Navy B-1 Band on the steps of their barracks in Chapel Hill.
larger image

high resolution image

U.S. Navy B-1 parades in downtown Chapel Hill in August 1942.
larger image

high resolution image

U.S. Navy B-1 Band plays while the American flag is raised at the UNC Pre-Flight School.
larger image

high resolution image

U.S. Navy B-1's basketball team, in Chapel Hill.
larger image

high resolution image

Bandleader James B. Parsons teaches trumpet to a Chapel Hill kid.
larger image

high resolution image

back to top

Hawaii Photos

U.S. Navy B-1 Band parades in Hawaii.
larger image

high resolution image

Bandsmen perform in Hawaii:
from left to right, Charles Woods, Thomas Gavin, Walter Carlson, Clarence Yourse
larger image

high resolution image

back to top

post-World War II Photos

The first reunion of the B-1, in 1954, when members gathered again on the steps of their barracks.
larger image

high resolution image

Charles Woods plays bass at the 1985 reunion while classmate/pianist Carl Foster of the Great Lakes Experience looks on.
larger image

high resolution image

Lou Donaldson performs at the 1985 reunion. Donaldson, Foster, and Jehovah Guy were all N.C. A&T students who served at Great Lakes, but after the war, they returned to Greensboro where they formed, with several of their B-1 buddies, the Rhythm Vets.
larger image

high resolution image

Abe Thurman plays trumpet at the 1985 reunion.
larger image

high resolution image

Thomas "Buck" Gavin, in 1985 at a Rhythm Vets reunion in Greenville, NC.
larger image

high resolution image

back to top


Lt. John P. Graff, US Navy, writes to Town of Chapel Hill, proposing to house "a U.S. Navy Band composed entirely of colored musicians" at the Community Center, not yet completed.

Greensboro Daily News announces that 13 A&T students are to join the Navy band to be stationed at the new pre-flight school being established at UNC. The band will be housed at the Negro Community Center there. Those accepted for enlistment include Gibbs, Brower, Haith, Yourse, Holt, Woods, Butler, Morgan, Currie, Clay, Skinner, White, and Gavin.

6 students from A&T added to band for pre-flight school: Williamson, Guy, Lawrence, Thurman, Wilson, & Siler.

"I Am An American Day" at A&T features the college's 50 piece band, under direction of Bernard T. Mason. According to the Greensboro Daily News: "Some of the members of the band will soon be leaving for Chapel Hill, where they will form the nucleus for the first Negro band."

U.S. Navy Pre-Flight School is dedicated at UNC.

U.S. Navy B-1 Band leaves Raleigh after formal induction for basic training in Norfolk.

First Pre-flight students arrive at Chapel Hill

U.S. Navy B-1 Band arrives in Chapel Hill for duty

According to official U.S. Navy records, Leonard L. Bowden becomes the first African-American sailor to serve in the modern Navy at rank other than galley. Bowden, a former band director at Tuskegee Institute, was to become bandmaster at Camp Smalls at Great Lakes.

back to top

[name, rank, instrument, home town, status at enlistment]
* indicates deceased

Brower, Robert E., MusC2, baritone
Greensboro, attending NC A&T

*Butler, Alton V., Jr. MusC2 clarinet & saxophone
Winston-Salem; attending A&T

*Carlson, John E., Mus3c, trombone
Laurinburg; attending A&T

*Carlson, Walter F., Jr., Mus3c, trumpet
Laurinburg; attending A&T

Carter, Robert

Clay, John D., Mus3c, clarinet
Roxboro, attending A&T

*Cole, W.H., Mus2c, piano & trombone
Hampton, VA, attending Hampton Institute

*Currie, Willie F., Jr. Mus2c, trumpet
St. Paul; attending A&T

*Gavin, Thomas, J., Jr., Mus3c, saxophone
Lumberton; attending A&T at enlistment on May 8, 1942

*Gibbs, Warmouth T. , Jr. Mus3c, clarinet
Greensboro; attending A&T

Gibson, William R.
Greensboro; attending A&T at enlistement on May 19, 1942

Gilmer, John S.
Columbus, Ga.; early graduation from Dudley High

*Arthur Guy, Mus2c, drums
Greensboro, attending A&T

Haith, Walter F. [Filmore] Mus3c, drums
Greensboro; attending A&T

*Harris, Otto, Mus3c, trumpet
Greensboro; attending Dudley H.S.

Herring, Wray Raphael, baritone & trombone
Greensboro; early graduation from Dudley H.S.

Holloway, Simeon O. Mus3c, baritone saxophone
Gary, Ind, Attending A&T

*Holt, Roger F., Mus3c, trombone
Greensboro, attending A&T

*James, Silas A., Mus3c, clarinet & saxophone
Durham, attending NC College

Jones, Dr. Richard H. L. Mus3c, trombone
Greensboro; attending A&T

*Jordan, Julian B., Mus2c, trombone
Charlotte; attending Hampton Institute

*Judkins, Willie C., Mus3c
Durham, attending NCC


Keller, Thomas A., Mus3c, drums
Springfield, Ohio, attending NCC

Lake, Roy H. Mus2c, clarinet
Greensboro; attending Dudley

Laikin, Benny, cornet
Florence, S.C.; living in Salisbury.

Lawrence, Huey L. Mus2c, trumpet
Pittsburg, PA; attending A&T

Mason, John, Mus3c, French horn
Durham; attending Hillside High School

*Morehead, Nathaniel S., Mus3c, trombone
Greensboro; attending A&T

Morgan, James D. Mus2c
Comfort, NC; attending A&T

Morrow, Calvin F., Mus3c, French horn
Greensboro; attending Dudley

*Parsons, James Benton, Mus1c
Decatur, Ill.; Director of Instrumental Music for Negro school system

*Pettiford, Raymond, Mus3c, trumpet
Greensboro; attending Dudley HS

*Reeder, Herbert E., Mus2c
Columbia, SC; attending SC State

*Scott, James B., Mus3c, bass horn
Greensboro; attending Dudley HS

Sellers, Robert E., Mus3c, bass horn
Durham; attending Hillside HS

*Siler, Royland V., Mus3c, trumpet
Newport News, Va; A&T

*Skinner, William E., clarinet
Norfolk, Va.; attending A&T

*Tate, Robert M. Mus3c, cornet
Durham; attending Johnson C. Smith

Thomas, Melvin P.

Thurman, Abe Mus2c, piccolo
Newark, NJ; attending A&T

White, Jewitt L. Mus3c, cornet
Gary Ind; attending A&T

*Williamson, Sherman U., Mus2c
Greensboro; attending A&T

*Wilson, Lawyard L., Mus2c, saxophone
Johnson City, Tenn.; attending A&T

*Woods, Charles L. Mus2c, bass & bass viol
Greensboro, attending A&T

*Yourse, James C. [Clarence[ Mus3c, trumpet
Grensboro; attending A&T

free hit counters