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Alex Albright’s 2013 book is the official history of U.S. Navy B-1.
The fellows of B-1 mustered into the U.S. Navy at Raleigh on May 27, 1942 and later on that day were off to Norfolk for training. They were at their first duty station, in Chapel Hill, by the end of July.
The Navy, however, didn’t notice: it announced that Doreston Luke Carmen, Jr., from Galveston, Texas, became the first African-American to enlist at general rating in the modern Navy on June 5.
In addition to holding the distinction erroneously awarded to Carmen, B-1 was the first band of musician-rated seamen that wasn’t School of Navy trained (the school, of course, was closed to blacks at the time). And they were the first non-custodial personnel to work regularly on the campus at UNC-Chapel Hill, where they also helped integrate a local church.
Their story circumvents the tense narratives of the 1940s by virtue of their awareness of their task at hand, and how important that it not be compromised. Their leader, James B. Parsons, said they were the best musicians and smartest men available, and part of their superlative nature was knowing how to negotiate those racially charged days. “When we left base,” one recalls, “it was like we were walking on eggshells.”