The late Vice Adm. Samuel L. Gravely Jr., the first African American to command a warship in the U.S. Navy, is to be honored by having a vessel named for him when the guided-missile destroyer USS Gravely is commissioned in Wilmington, N.C. on Nov. 20.
“I think in the next 30 years that this ship has its life, the legacy is going to continue,” Louise McColl, chair of the commissioning committee for the USS Gravely told the AFRO in a recent interview. “We’re already getting calls from people that served with him talking about how good he was and how great of a man he was, so if you look at the people that served, if you look at the commissioning and the christening and if you look at the men and women that are going to serve in the future of this ship, I think Gravely’s legacy will go on forever.”
Gravely was born in Richmond, Va. in 1922, attended Virginia Union University and later enlisted in the Naval Reserve, according to the FriendsofUSSGravely.com. He completed midshipman training in 1944 and became the first African-American commissioned as an officer in the Navy. Following a brief stint as an ensign at the Great Lakes Naval Training Station, he became the first Black to serve on a seagoing vessel, the submarine chaser USS PC-1264.
Among his later achievements, he was the first African-American to command a warship, as a lieutenant commander aboard the destroyer escort USS Falgout in 1962, and the first Black to command a vessel in combat conditions, as a full commander aboard the destroyer USS Taussig in 1966. Gravely was also the first African-American to achieve the rank of Vice Admiral and the first to command a fleet, the U.S. 3rd Fleet. His entire naval career spanned 38 years and included a bevy of distinguished accomplishments.
Gravely died at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. in 2004.
The first U.S. Navy ship to be named after an African American officer was the USS Jesse L. Brown, a frigate that was decommissioned in 1994. It was named after the first Black aviator in the U.S. Navy, Lt. Jesse L. Brown, who was killed in action during the Korean War.
“It’s fitting that this type of ship be named after a man who was able to set a true course for our nation’s Navy, and at the same time transform challenges into accomplishments and lead the way for a future generation of naval war fighters,”, Vice Adm. John Harvey, chief of Naval Personnel, said in a statement during the initial naming of the ship.
The USS Gravely, hailed as a one of the most advanced ships ever developed, is over 508 feet in length and draws 31 feet of water. After its commissioning, more than 380 officers and enlisted personnel will serve aboard
Gravely’s widow, Alma Bernice Clark Gravely, is the sponsor of the ship. She shared with the National Newspaper Publishers Association how she believes Gravely would react to the ship if he were still alive today.
“I think, inside of him, he would be beaming, and he would feel so honored and so humble,” she told the NNPA. “But on the outside, I think he’d be saying: ‘You mean you’re going to name a ship after me?’”