This tweet showed up on my timeline, and it encouraged me to do a bit of research.
In February 1944, the Navy commissioned its first African-American officers. This long-hoped-for action represented a major step forward in the status of African-Americans in the Navy and in American society. The twelve commissioned officers, and a warrant officer who received his rank at the same time, came to be known as the “Golden Thirteen”.
Photographed 17 March 1944.
They are (bottom row, left to right) Ensign James E. Hare, USNR; Ensign Samuel E. Barnes, USNR; Ensign George C. Cooper, USNR; Ensign William S. White, USNR; Ensign Dennis D. Nelson, USNR; (middle row) Ensign Graham E. Martin, USNR; Warrant Officer Charles B. Lear, USNR; Ensign Phillip G. Barnes, USNR; Ensign Reginald E. Goodwin, USNR;
(top row) Ensign John W. Reagan, USNR; Ensign Jesse W. Arbor, USNR; Ensign Dalton L. Baugh, USNR; Ensign Frank E. Sublett, USNR.
Courtesy of Surface Warfare Magazine, 1982.
U.S. NHHC Photograph.
During World War II, as military conscription brought tens of thousands of black recruits into the navy, senior white commanders and government officials became concerned at the lack of black officers to lead them. In 1943 the secretary of the navy agreed to commission black officers, and 16 candidates were chosen from the ranks to undergo accelerated officer training at the Great Lakes Naval Training Station in Illinois. Most, but not all, of the 16 had been to college, and some had advanced degrees; most of them also had been athletes, and all had exemplary service records. From January through March 1944, they went through officer training in segregated facilities at Great Lakes under the tutelage of white officers. All passed the course, but only 13 received commissions, 12 as ensigns and 1 as a warrant officer. (The reasons for the rejection of the final three were never given. Some have speculated that the navy, accustomed to a certain failure rate among officer candidates, did not want the black group to be seen as performing better than whites.)
More at Encylopaedia Brittanica: Golden Thirteen
Much has changed in 70 years.
Much more change, I hope, will continue.