216 N Roberson St
Robersonville, NC 27871
U.S. Navy B-1 Bandsmen celebrate the 74th anniversary of their becoming the first African Americans to serve in the modern Navy at rank higher than messman when they gather for their reunion in Chapel Hill on August 4-6. Highlighting the weekend’s activities is a free public “meet & greet” event at the Hargraves Center on Roberson Street, August 5, 7:00 pm to 8:30 pm.
Hargraves, now a Chapel Hill recreation building, was the band’s headquarters during their wartime service attached to the Navy’s PreFlight School that was housed on the UNC campus. Because state law at the time forbade the bandsmen from lodging or dining on campus, Hargraves became their home, from where they paraded daily to Alexander Hall for the raising of colors. Among those thrilled by these community parades were John and Doug Clark, whose mother, Rebecca Clark, was a cousin to one of the bandsmen. Among their many champions in Chapel Hill’s white community were the Rev. Charles Jones and Frank Porter Graham.
While stationed at UNC, the bandsmen were denied entrance to classes open to other Navy cadets. Their dance bands played primarily for white sailors at occasions where the musicians would not have otherwise been welcomed.
B-1 bandsmen were made honorary members of the Marching Tar Heels during halftime of the Carolina-James Madison football game on September 1, 2007. Prior to the game, Chancellor James Moeser apologized to the bandsmen for how they had been treated by the University during the war years. “I think that this is the first time that we have welcomed you on this campus, and it is very, very, very late, but it is never too late. I only regret that we didn’t do this many, many, many years ago when we could have had the entire band on campus.”
“Keeping the Legacy Alive: A Community Meet & Greet” will feature brief remarks from the bandsmen and community members who remember the band’s presence and influence. Most of the original 44 bandsmen were students in school bands at NC A and T, Greensboro’s Dudley High School, and North Carolina College (now NC Central); only 6 are still surviving. Committed to attending the reunion so far: Calvin Morrow, Greensboro, NC; Abe Thurman, Beaufort, NC; John Mason, Durham, NC; Simeon Holloway, Las Vegas, NV.
For more information, contact Alex Albright (UNC ’72), B-1’s official historian and author of “The Forgotten First: B-1 and the Integration of the Modern Navy.”