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    Follow the Stories | Hartford, Connecticut (2009)

    Archive of C.E. Minor, African American Sailor

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    • A newspaper photo showing the president holding up the 8-ball
      Brian P., of Newport, Rhode Island, came to the Hartford, Connecticut, ROADSHOW in August 2008 with an impressively thorough record of his great-grandfather, Charles Edward Minor's, service in the U.S. Navy around the turn of the 20th century. The collection, including vellum enlistment documents, a "cabinet card" photograph, service record and medals, was valued by appraiser Gary Piattoni at between $2,500 and $3,500, a high figure given Minor's rank upon retirement — Chief Petty Officer — because Minor was exceptional: he was a decorated African American seaman a mere 20 years after the abolition of slavery.

    • A newspaper photo showing the president holding up the 8-ball
      According to Brian and his mother, Carole, Charles Edward Minor was born in Washington, D.C., in 1869. "You can imagine what conditions were like at that time," says Carole. "When he was 15, Charles ran off to join the Navy." America was soon to emerge as a global power, and Minor circled the globe five times, serving in the Spanish-American War, World War I, and the Boxer Rebellion. This undated photo, taken in Japan, is possibly from that period.

    • A newspaper photo showing the president holding up the 8-ball
      In 1907, after serving for 20 years, Minor made Petty Officer; 10 years later, he was appointed Chief Petty Officer, and was tasked with maintaining the coal-powered furnaces that powered the vessels of his day. Thirty years is a long time to wait for such an appointment, but at the time, there were only four African American CPOs in the entire U.S. Navy. Indeed, his achievement is all the more remarkable when one recalls that, even through World War II, African Americans were effectively restricted from serving in non-menial positions. The majority served as messmen — cooks.

    • A newspaper photo showing the president holding up the 8-ball
      Over his 34 years in the service, Minor served on a number of vessels. In the left-hand column of this beautifully preserved, leather-bound enlistment record, you can see the names of some of the ships he served on. The final entry, the USS Constellation, prior to Minor's enlistment had served as flagship of the African Squadron, one of whose responsibilities was interdicting vessels loaded with abducted Africans bound for slavery in the United States.

    • A newspaper photo showing the president holding up the 8-ball
      The bronze medal in the center of this display was awarded Minor after his service at the Battle of Santiago de Cuba, a decisive 1898 battle in the Spanish-American War. At the time, Minor was serving on the USS Brooklyn; in keeping with tradition, the citizens of Brooklyn, N.Y., ordered medals struck to honor the sailors on the eponymous ship. Later in his life, says Carole, "He sat me down and taught me the military maneuvers of the Battle of Santiago. I wasn't really interested," Carole says with a chuckle, "but he thought I was."

    • A newspaper photo showing the president holding up the 8-ball
      After retiring from the Navy at 52, Minor had the wherewithal to buy a four-bedroom home in Newport and to invest in the stock market. Again, Minor was ahead of his time. Says Brian, "Some of the stocks didn't pan out, but he was buying stocks a hundred at a time during the Great Depression. Black man or white man, that's something." True, yet it is all the more remarkable for a black man in a society that would be segregated by law for another 30 years.

    • A newspaper photo showing the president holding up the 8-ball
      Minor died at 92 years of age. In his later years, he received a letter of commendation from President Eisenhower. As a citizen of Newport, he did plumbing and electrical work, gratis, for the local black community, and served as an unofficial advisor for young naval recruits. And despite all the hardships of coming up in a society and a military that was prejudiced against him, Carole says she cannot remember her grandfather ever complaining about unfair treatment. "It would have been a distraction from achieving his goals," she says. "My grandfather loved the Navy. He loved everything about what he did."

      Watch the full appraisal in our ROADSHOW Archive »

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