Black U.S. Navy Band Remembered In Chapel Hill

May 29, 2017

Calvin Morrow and Simeon Holloway, wearing B-1 Navy baseball caps at the May 27, 2017 historical marker ceremony in Chapel Hill, NC.
Credit Leoneda Inge / WUNC

A historical marker in Chapel Hill was unveiled this Memorial Day weekend to remember the African American men who officially integrated the U.S. Navy during World War II.

The unveiling took place at the corner of Franklin and Roberson Streets, near the historic First Baptist Church.

The event commemorated the African-American men who broke the Navy’s racial barriers - all trained musicians - who were able to enlist at general rank in 1942, instead of entering as cooks and porters.

Two of the last four living members of the B-1 U.S. Navy Band were serenaded during the ceremony. A professional trumpet player performed "Amazing Grace," and "Taps," a known military bugle call band members played daily on the UNC-Chapel Hill campus. 

Calvin Morrow is 93-years-old and played the French Horn. Between 1942 and 1944 he and the other men marched and played down Franklin Street to campus, where white cadets assembled for the raising of the colors.

“Being Black, being always put down, we had been treated as human beings, that’s something to think about," said Morrow, standing underneath the historical marker.

Historian Alex Albright, author of the book, "Forgotten First B-1 U.S. Navy Band," says the march to and from UNC was almost two miles each way and the Black Navy Band members made that march everyday, except for Sundays. He said because they were Black, they could not live on campus.

"At the end of the morning when they were done with their work, practicing and playing for the cadets to change classes, they had to march back to the Hargraves Center to eat lunch because the university wouldn't let them eat at their facilities there, or stay there," said Albright.

Albright and others say because of the visible march to UNC, the musicians garnered much respect, especially from African American residents who would line Franklin Street to see the daily parade. The B-1 U.S. Navy Band members were deployed to Pearl Harbor once leaving Chapel Hill and performed in the U.S. and abroad to help ease racial tensions between African American and white sailors.

“It’s an honor, an honor to be living, to be remembered and the turnout, to be here, it’s just an honor," said 96-year-old Simeon Holloway, surrounded by family and friends. He played the Baritone Saxophone and the Clarinet in the B-1 U.S. Navy Band.

Many of the 44 members of the all-Black Navy band came from North Carolina A&T State University and Dudley High School in Greensboro, and North Carolina Central University and Hillside High School in Durham.