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African-American Navy Bands of World War II
U.S. Navy B-1 Band

HISTORICAL MARKER COMING TO CHAPEL HILL!
B-1's service and historical significance will be commemorated with the installation of a permanent historical marker that will be formally dedicated on May 27. North Carolina's historical marker program is administered by the state's Department of Cultural Resources and Department of Transportation. Since 1935, the program has erected over 1,500 state highway historical markers.

Dedication ceremonies for the B-1 marker will be at the intersection of West Franklin Street and South Roberson Street in Chapel Hill at 10 a.m on Saturday, May 27. The band was quartered during World War II at the Hargraves Center, at 216 N. Roberson Street. It was constructed during the first months of World War II as a barracks for the B-1 bandsmen, who were attached to the Navy's preflight school on the UNC campus. State segregationist laws, however, forbade the black bandsmen from being housed on campus. From Hargraves, they marched to Carolina's campus for work in daily parades that  thrilled their neighbors.

A brief history of B-1
U.S. Navy B-1 was comprised of the first African Americans to serve at rank higher than messman in the modern Navy. B-1 was also the first of over a hundred bands of African-American musicians the Navy used during World War II at postings stateside and in the Pacific.

Formed from a nucleus of North Carolina A&T College students and graduates, the band was comprised of "the best, most talented musicians in North Carolina." Bandsmen trained at Norfolk and served at Chapel Hill with the Navy's pre-flight school from August 1942 to May 1944, when they were transferred to Manana Barracks at Pearl Harbor, the largest posting of African-American servicemen in the world.

In October 1945, the men of B-1 began mustering out, replaced at their Hawaiian barracks by a new band of African-Americans that included another North Carolinian, saxophonist John Coltrane.

The first 44 to join B-1 did not include the Carlson brothers, John and Walter, who were able to skip basic training and join up with their A&T buddies as replacements, after the band got to Chapel Hill. As many as four others did not complete re-assignment to Pearl Harbor, where four new members were added.

B-1 began holding biannual reunions about 1954, and in the 1980s these reunions became annual affairs.

B-1's history is told in the 2013 book The Forgotten First: B-1 and the Integration of the Modern Navy, which was written by the band's official historian, Alex Albright.

Archival records related to the band are housed in East Carolina University's Special Collections in Joyner Library.

Articles & videos about B-1:
Chantelle Statham's documentary on B-1
Watch it!

Miranda's "Tuesday Afternoon Thread: The Music of World War II--the Navy B-1 Band," May 28, 2013
Read it!

Leslie Barbour's short documentary on B-1's 65th reunion in Chapel Hill:
Watch it!

Muster list

Chronology

Gallery of Images:
Chapel Hill
Hawaii
post-World War II

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Chapel Hill Photos

U.S. Navy B-1 Band on the steps of their barracks in Chapel Hill.
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U.S. Navy B-1 parades in downtown Chapel Hill in August 1942.
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U.S. Navy B-1 Band plays while the American flag is raised at the UNC Pre-Flight School.
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U.S. Navy B-1's basketball team, in Chapel Hill.
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Bandleader James B. Parsons teaches trumpet to a Chapel Hill kid.
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Hawaii Photos

U.S. Navy B-1 Band parades in Hawaii.
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Bandsmen perform in Hawaii:
from left to right, Charles Woods, Thomas Gavin, Walter Carlson, Clarence Yourse
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post-World War II Photos

The first reunion of the B-1, in 1954, when members gathered again on the steps of their barracks.
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Charles Woods plays bass at the 1985 reunion while classmate/pianist Carl Foster of the Great Lakes Experience looks on.
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Lou Donaldson performs at the 1985 reunion. Donaldson, Foster, and Jehovah Guy were all N.C. A&T students who served at Great Lakes, but after the war, they returned to Greensboro where they formed, with several of their B-1 buddies, the Rhythm Vets.
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Abe Thurman plays trumpet at the 1985 reunion.
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Thomas "Buck" Gavin, in 1985 at a Rhythm Vets reunion in Greenville, NC.
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