N.C. Highway Historical Marker Dedication May 27 to Salute First All Black Navy Band

Members of the Navy B-1 band.

The Chapel Hill campus hosted one of five Naval Pre-Flight Schools in the U.S. in 1942. There 44 black musicians formed the Navy’s first African American band. A N.C. Highway Historical Marker will be dedicated to recognize their breaking the Navy’s color barrier Saturday, May 27, 10 a.m., at the corner of Franklin and Roberson Streets in Chapel Hill.

Such bands were a tool to integrate the Navy as until then blacks had served as cooks and stewards. Many were affiliated with the present N.C. A & T State University in Greensboro. Since they could not eat or sleep with the white enlistees, they dined and bunked at the present Hargraves Recreation Center through an agreement with the town.

The unit marched the nearly two miles to campus to play as flags were raised and to play “Taps” as flags were lowered. During the 21-month assignment the band played for regimental reviews, war bond rallies, parades in Durham and Raleigh, a ship launching in Wilmington, a summer concert series and at football and basketball games.

In May 1944 the band was transferred to Pearl Harbor to help ease racial tensions. Postwar many of the members undertook careers as music educators. A plaque with the names of many of the band members was dedicated at Hargraves Recreation Center in the 1980s. In 2007 surviving veterans returned to Chapel Hill where they were honored by the chancellor.

A reception at Hargraves Recreation Center will follow the marker dedication. For additional information on the reception, call Alex Albright (252) 749-7974. For additional information on the Highway Marker Program, please call (919) 807-7290.

The N.C. Highway Historical Marker Program is within the Office of Archives and History and administered by the N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources. The Highway Marker Program is collaboration between the N.C. Departments of Natural and Cultural Resources and Transportation

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