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Tuesday, September 3, 2013

USS Mason: WWII Navy Ship With Mostly Black Crew

After Pearl Harbor, the Japanese attacked the Philippines and the two United States islands of Wake and Guam. Japanese troops landed in the French Indochina (Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia) and British Singapore. But before I launch into this comprehensive narrative, I would like to discuss some Florida State University findings. There was a Navy Ship in WWII with a predominately Black crew. The ship was called the USS Mason, a Destroyer Escort Vessel.

 Joan Denman, a former Senior Archivist and Historian with the Institute on WWII at Florida State remarked:

The fact that many African Americans honestly served vouched to their patriotism and their hope about changing this country. In fact, the seeds of the Civil Rights Movement were laid from the experiences of those who participated in World War II.

Some Facts about WWII African American Participation:

  • More than 19,000 Black Marines served
  • 167,000 Men served in the Navy
  • One Navy ship, the USS Mason (Destroyer Escort 529) had a mostly Black Crew.
  • Over 5,000 African American men joined the Coast Guard
  • 24,000 were members of the integrated Merchant Marines
  • 17 Liberty Ships were named after noted Blacks, many were captained by African Americans
  • 909,000 served in the Army  

The USS Mason (DE 529) was named after African American Ensign Newton Henry Mason. Ensign Newton Henry Mason was born in NYC in 1918 and was a member of the U.S. Naval Air Corps. He became a seamen on November 7, 1940, and then was appointed to an aviation cadet. Mason was declared missing in aerial combat in the Coral Sea in May 8, 1942. He was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross by The Navy.

                                                  The 90's era USS Mason was dedicated to the
                                                  USS Mason DE 529 sailors.

The USS Mason was one of two US Navy Ships with largely African American crews in WWII. USS - PC 1264, a submarine chaser, was the other vessel. These two ships were a result of a letter sent to President Roosevelt by the NAACP in mid December 1941. Recall how FDR intervened when it was time to reward Dorie Miller the Navy Cross for his bravery during WWII.

According to, the movie Proudly We Served was released in 1996. It was narrated by the late actor Ossie Davis and detailed the lives of crew members who fought Nazi U-boats, storms, and challenged segregation. As a result of the film, members of the USS Mason received letters of commendations 50 years later--After originally being recommended in 1944.

The USS Mason's crew was the first time Black Americans were "permitted to be trained in ratings other than cooks and stewards." It was nicknamed "Eleanor's Folly" because it was First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt's idea for the all Black crew. There were limited expectations for the crew but the sailors proved their naysayers wrong. The USS Mason sailors, with the mostly Black Crew, certainly has similar parallels to Montford Point Marines.

In 1998, Secretary of Navy John Dalton authorized the naming of another ship in honor of the USS Mason DE 529. It was known as the USS Mason DDG 87 and commemorated equality and the end of segregation in the armed forces.



Which leads us to Harding Bailey (1920-1984). Harding Bailey served on the USS Mason as an Electrician Mate 2nd Class. He is one of the Six Bailey Brothers with an amazing military history...

*The First USS Mason was named after Secretary of Navy John Mason in 1918. There were a total of three navy ships named USS Mason .

Destroyer Escorts-Used during WWII in response to German U-Boat threat in the Atlantic. Armed with guns and torpedoes and served as a scout ship of a fleet or convoy.

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