In March 1944, James E. Hair and 12 other sailors completed training at Great Lakes Naval Training Station and were commissioned as the first African American officers in the U.S. Navy. “It was a great feeling, and it was a mixed feeling also,” Hair would recall in his oral history published by the Naval Institute.
Hair and his shipmates—to become known as the Golden Thirteen—knew getting the commission was not the end of it. “There was a big job ahead of us that we had to do. We were now officers in the Navy, and this was a step in the direction of breaking down the all-white-officer Navy. We were thrown out there as examples now that we were officers, and we had to be the leaders now.”