Even from its early days in World War II, the Seabees were all about the Can Do! attitude. It didn’t matter who you were, as long as you could get the job done. This spirit carried through even when the social norms of the day kept some groups back, specifically African-Americans.
During WWII initial African American units were led by white-southern men who were racist and disrespectful. Even with the odds stacked against them these men continued to work hard and perform all scheduled duties. This spirt, coupled with peaceful hunger strikes and a healthy dose of legal knowhow led to the removal of the initial officers in charge. In their place BuDocks replaced them with non-southerners. This change in leadership would pave the way for equality, not only in the Seabees but in the general military as well.
With the change in leadership the men followed by example and started to treat their African American service men with the same respect and dignity their leaders showed. In addition they often fought on small islands and in small units where men couldn’t afford to be picky about who they worked with, after all, if a bridge has to be built and you only have a few people you’re going to use everyone available. The small units, coupled with a building respect enabled the units to work better and faster together than they would have apart.
African-American Seabees not only helped out with general construction, they also contributed by lending their talents to diving, cooking and photography. With these additional skills African Americans were able to prove to their commanding officers and to the military in general that they could do more than simply be stewards.
Though there are still improvements that need to happen, the Seabees are one of the most integrated units in the military, thanks in part to their attitude and the ability to change when needed. After all, everyone Can Do! #WWII #BlackSeabees #BlackHistory #AfricanAmericans
Archivist Ingi House is originally from Kansas where she got her B.A. in history from the University of Kansas and M.L.S. from Emporia State University. After working for the Dole Institute of Politics she moved to the East Coast. In D.C. she worked at the National Archives and Records Administration and then at the Defense Acquisition University where she became a Certified Archivist. Her continued enjoyment of military history lead her to switching coasts and coming to work for the Seabee Museum where she is collection manager for the archives and records manager liaison.