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VADM Samuel L. Gravely: DCA director a trailblazer for African Americans in the U.S. military

Navy VADM Samuel L. Gravely Jr. served in the U.S. Navy for 38 years and was an integral part of the desegregation of the U.S. Armed Forces. During National African American History Month, we honor and remember his accomplishments.

Gravely’s last tour of duty was as the director of the Defense Communications Agency (DCA) — now the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) — from September 1978 through July 1980.

His Naval career began on Sept. 15, 1942, when he was commissioned as an ensign in the Naval Reserves. At the time of his enlistment, Gravely, an African American, served aboard a segregated submarine chaser.

On Dec. 14, 1944, Gravely successfully completed midshipman training and became the first African American commissioned as an officer from the Navy Reserve Officer Training Course.

It was not until 1948 that President Harry Truman ordered the desegregation of the U.S. military. In 1955, Gravely transferred from the Naval Reserves to the Navy. 

Over the course of his 38-year career, Gravely's performance and leadership as a U.S. Naval officer demonstrated to America the value and strength of diversity. Among the numerous accomplishments of his career were several landmark “firsts” for the Navy. He was:

  • The first African American to command a U.S. Navy warship (USS Theodore E. Chandler).
  • The first African American to command an American warship under combat conditions since the Civil War (USS Taussig).
  • The first African American to command a major naval warship (USS Jouett).
  • The first African American to achieve flag rank and the first African American to rise to the rank of vice admiral.
  • The first African American to command a U.S. fleet (Third Fleet).

Gravely was also a highly decorated officer, receiving numerous awards throughout his career, including the Legion of Merit with gold star, Bronze Star, Meritorious Service Medal, and Navy Commendation Medal.

As the DCA Director, Gravely had approximately 3,500 employees and an annual budget of $120 million. His strategic planning helped pave the way for an era in which the government could move towards having one telecommunications entity for wartime and domestic emergencies.

Gravely, who was a native of Richmond, Virginia, passed away on Oct. 22, 2004, at the age of 82.

In Richmond, the street on which Gravely grew up was renamed Admiral Gravely Boulevard. Today, the USS Gravely is also named in his honor, as well as the Samuel L. Gravely Jr. Elementary School in Haymarket, Virginia, where he resided after retirement.

Learn more about African American trailblazers in the U.S. military by visiting the Department of Defense (DOD) special report on National African American History Month

Posted February 21, 2017