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White, William Sylvester (1914-2004)

Member of the Golden Thirteen


Based on two interviews conducted by Paul Stillwell in October 1986 and July 1988. The volume contains 130 pages of interview transcript plus an index. The transcript is copyright 1990 by the U.S. Naval Institute; the interviewee has placed no restrictions on its use.


After growing up in Chicago, White got his education in the city, including a law degree from the University of Chicago. Following private practice, he became an assistant U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Illinois in 1939 and remained in that capacity until he enlisted in the Navy in 1943. After recruit training at Great Lakes, he was part of a group of 16 men who underwent training as officers. In March 1944 White was one of a group of 13 men who became the first black U.S. naval officers on active duty. He served for the remainder of the war in Navy public information, first at Great Lakes, later in Washington. After the war he resumed his legal career in the U.S. attorney's office. He joined the cabinet of Illinois Governor Otto Kerner in 1961. In 1964 he became a judge and from 1980 until his retirement in 1991 he was a justice of the Illinois Appellate Court. The principal focus of the oral history is Justice White's recollection of his naval service, including an analytical view of the service of blacks in the Navy and their acceptance into U.S. society as a whole.


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