15 Black Sailors Exonerated After Being Dishonorably Discharged For ‘Bad Conduct’ 83 Years Ago

15 Black Sailors Exonerated After Being Dishonorably Discharged For ‘Bad Conduct’ 83 Years Ago

Officials from the Navy formally apologized to the family of two of the 15 Black sailors who were expelled from the Navy over 80 years ago after they exposed racism.

According to the Chattanooga Times Free Press, on June 16, 2023, the Navy formally apologized for expelling 15 Black sailors. It issued honorable discharges for all of the men, all deceased.

The Black sailors were kicked out of the Navy after they signed a letter and sent it to a Black newspaper that revealed the racist treatment they endured. They were named the ‘Philadelphia 15’ since all the sailors were stationed on the USS Philadelphia at that time. The incident occurred in 1940.

The Navy invited several family members of two of the soldiers who were part of the ‘Philadelphia 15,’ including James and John Ponder. Larry Ponder, the son of John, attended the ceremony with three additional family members at the Pentagon. In an interview with the Chatanooga Times Free Press, Larry said his father and uncle were around 20 years old when the discharges were issued.

“We were told that what they did started a movement throughout the service,” Ponder said. “But they were the first ones to be disciplined and kicked out.”

Ponder’s father died in 1997, and he found paperwork detailing his “undesirable” discharge from the Navy. Due to the actions of the Navy, his father, and uncle were denied veterans’ benefits. He told the newspaper that even after what transpired, his father encouraged several family members to enlist, and he served in the Vietnam War.

Years after his father died, Ponder came across news of another Black veteran who was granted an honorable discharge 75 years after he was kicked out. He decided to contact the attorney who handled that case, and after speaking to her, she agreed to help him without charging him.

Initially, they were rejected, yet, after gathering the proper evidence, the Navy agreed to pardon the soldiers.

One week before the ceremony, Ponder was told by Navy officials to gather family members. Navy officials sent him a flight confirmation the night before he flew to Washington, D.C., where they received a tour of the Pentagon and attended the ceremony that gave his uncle and father an honorable discharge. The Ponders were the only descendants of the ‘Philadelphia 15’ in attendance, but he said Navy officials are also tracking down family members from the other sailors.