Samuel Lee Gravely, Jr. – Vice Admiral, United States Navy

Samuel Lee Gravely, Jr., (June 4, 1922-October 22, 2004), was an African American Navy pioneer and a native of Richmond, Virginia. Gravely spent two years at Virginia Union University, where he was a member of Alpha Phi Alpha, the first intercollegiate Greek-letter fraternity established for African Americans. Following his time in college, he enlisted in the Naval Reserves on September 15, 1942 and was trained as a Fireman Apprentice. In 1943, he participated in the Navy V-12 program, which was designed to select and train Naval officers. As part of this training, he attended the University of California in Los Angeles, Pre-Midshipman School in New Jersey, and Midshipmen School at Columbia University. On December 14, 1944 Gravely successfully completed midshipman training, thereby becoming the first African American commissioned as an officer from the Navy Reserve Officer Training Course.

As a newly commissioned Ensign, his first assignment was to Camp Robert Smalls, as the Assistant Battalion Commander for new recruits. Afterwards, he began his seagoing career as a sailor aboard the USS PC-1264, a submarine chaser that was one of only two World War II ships with a largely African-American crew.

In April 1946, he was released from active duty, remaining in the Naval Reserve. He returned to his hometown of Richmond to complete his bachelor’s degree in History. He was also among the first African-Americans to attend the Naval War College in 1962.

Gravely was recalled to active duty in 1949. As part of the Navy’s response to President Harry S. Truman’s Executive Order to desegregate the Armed Services, his initial assignment was as a Navy Recruiter, recruiting African-Americans in the Washington, D.C. area.

Gravely went from recruiting to building a Navy career that lasted 38 years and included many distinguished accomplishments.

He became the first African American to command a U.S. Navy warship (Theodore E. Chandler), the first African American to command an American warship under combat conditions (Taussig), the first African American to command a major naval warship (Jouett), the first African American admiral, the first African American to rise to the rank of Vice Admiral, and the first African-American to command a U.S. Fleet (Commander, U.S. 3rd Fleet).

Admiral Gravely was assigned tours of duty aboard the following: PC-1264, Iowa, Toledo and Seminole. He served as Executive Officer and Commanding Officer of the Theodore E. Chandler. Additionally, he was the Commanding Officer of the Falgout, Taussig, and Jouett. His last tour of duty before his retirement in August 1980, was as Director of the Defense Communications Agency in Washington, overseeing the communications network linking Washington with American and allied bases worldwide.

Admiral Gravely was also highly decorated, with decorations including the Legion of Merit, Bronze Star, Meritorious Service Medal and Navy Commendation Medal.

After suffering a stroke, Gravely died at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, on October 22, 2004. Admiral Gravely had three children, and was survived by his wife, Alma.

USS Gravely (DDG-107) has been named in his honor. A street on the east side of Richmond, Virginia is named in his honor.


October 23, 2004
Pioneer for blacks in Navy dies at age 82

RICHMOND, Virginia – Vice Admiral Samuel Gravely Jr., the first black commander of a Navy ship and the first black to earn the rank of admiral, died Friday, October 22, 2004, at Bethesda Naval Hospital after a short illness. He was 82.

Alma Gravely said her husband suffered a massive stroke after being admitted to the Maryland hospital about three weeks ago. He also had battled an infection in his blood stream and other health problems, she said.

Samuel Gravely, a Richmond native who lived in Haymarket, served 38 years in the Navy and the Naval Reserves. He repeatedly became the highest-ranking black in the Navy, ultimately becoming a three-star Admiral.

He was the first black commissioned as an officer and the first to graduate from a Navy midshipman’s school. He was the first black officer to serve aboard a Navy fighting ship and in 1962 became the first black to command one–the radar picket ship Falgout.

He was also the first black line officer to rise to the rank of Commander and the first to become Captain. In 1971, he became the first to earn the rank of Admiral.

When he retired in 1980, Gravely was the director of the Defense Communication Agency, an organization of about 3,500 employees with an annual budget of $120 million.

He was awarded the Legion of Merit, the Bronze Star, the Meritorious Service Medal and several Navy commendation medals.

Gravely earned a history degree from Virginia Union University in 1948.

In addition to his wife, Gravely is survived by a son, David Edward Gravely of Manassas Park; a daughter, Tracey E. Gravely of Fredericksburg; and two brothers, Edward C. Gravely of Hyattsville, Maryland, and Robert Michael Gravely of Richmond.

A memorial service will be held Saturday at noon at Olive Branch Baptist Church in Haymarket. A second service will be held December 17, 2004, at Arlington National Cemetery, with burial to follow.

Gravely Interred at Arlington National Cemetery
Story Number: NNS041221-05
Release Date: 12/21/2004 2:27:00 PM
By Lt. Karen Eifert, Navy Public Affairs Center, Norfolk

ARLINGTON, Virginia (NNS) — Active-duty service members, retirees and civilians visited Fort Myer Memorial Chapel in Arlington, Va., Dec. 17 to pay their final respects to Vice Admiral Samuel L. Gravely Jr., the Navy’s first African American Admiral.

During a ceremony which preceded the interment, retired Rear Adm. Lawrence Layman painted a picture of Gravely as a “gentle giant,” a first-rate officer and a friend.

“[Vice Adm. Gravely] expected the same level of excellence in his subordinates that he expected of himself,” said Layman, who said he encountered Gravely many times throughout his own military career. “He would always tell you if you were headed down the wrong path.”

Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Personnel Programs Charles Tompkins also spoke and made mention of Gravely’s personal motto, which suggests that education, motivation and perseverance are a formula for success.

“He truly lived his motto throughout his life,” Tompkins said. “He was a man of integrity and lived up to the highest ideals of the Navy’s Core Values – Honor, Courage and Commitment.”

Tompkins recalled meeting Gravely as a 21-year-old flight student, and the impact Gravely had upon himself and several other African American pilots.

“He gave us hope for things to come. He opened our eyes to possibilities we had not dreamed of, because the future was not crystal clear in the struggle we were engaged in with Navy flight training,” Tompkins said.

During the interment, Vice Admiral David L. Brewer III presented Gravely’s wife, Alma, the flag that had covered her husband’s coffin.

After reciting many of the well-known military accomplishments and mentorship efforts of Gravely, Brewer shared that Gravely had also mentored him.

“If I were a sculptor and were asked to build a model human being, I would chisel a sculpture of Adm. Gravely,” said Brewer. “I really was sincere when I said he was a giant, a vanguard and a master, because he stood so tall for all of us during the storms of racial change in our Navy. He really illuminated a light of service for all of us. When I joined the Navy in 1970, there were no African American admirals, and a year after I joined in 1971, Adm. Gravely became the first [African American] flag officer. So that gave us a ray of hope that perhaps this was indeed a place where African Americans could serve.”

Rear Adm. Andy Winns was just one of the many flag officers who attended the interment who pointed out that Gravely strived to mentor and promote excellence in all junior officers without regard to race or gender.

“Vice Adm. Gravely was an inspiration, not only to African Americans, but to all Naval officers aspiring to be the best that they can be. To this day I think he is still an inspiration to us all, just an absolutely wonderful officer, gentleman and a Christian.”

Vice Adm. Gravely was a lifetime member of the National Naval Officers Association (NNOA), which seeks to mentor junior officers in the sea services. NNOA hosts an annual Vice Adm. Samuel L. Gravely Jr. scholarship banquet in an effort to encourage excellence in college-bound high school students. To learn more about this scholarship visit



  • DATE OF BIRTH: 06/04/1922
  • DATE OF DEATH: 10/22/2004

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