Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Signs of Segregation at Naval Station Norfolk

By Katherine A. Renfrew 
Hampton Roads Naval Museum Registrar

COLORED and WHITE signs were a common sight across the southern landscape during the early 20th century.  Prominently displayed in storefront windows, waiting rooms and public accommodations, these signs were a physical reminder of racial segregation in American society.  State and local laws known as Jim Crow laws governed how African–Americans and white people interacted with each other.   The premise “equal, but separate” was in no way “equal."
The United States military was no exception as evidenced in these two images of comfort stations located on Naval Station Norfolk during the 1920s.  These were most likely used by civilian employees working on the base.  It wasn’t until 1948 that President Harry Truman signed Executive Order 9981 eliminating segregation and ordering full integration in the armed forces. The order declared that "there shall be equality of treatment and opportunity for all persons in the armed forces without regard to race, color, religion, or national origin."  Despite the order, it took another dozen or so years before the military was completely desegregated.

TOP: Comfort Station looking at the east side and north end of Building 20, located in Unit E, Naval Station Norfolk (NSN), May 8, 1922.  ABOVE: Closer views of the signs.

(National Archives and Records Administration

NS-Norfolk-1922-17 (RG 71-CA, Box 323, Folder A)

TOP: Another Comfort Station looking at the east side and north end, Building 10, Unit O, NSN, August 2, 1922. ABOVE: A closer view of the most legible sign.

(National Archives and Records Administration

NS-Norfolk-1922-44 (RG 71-CA, Box 323, Folder C)
This brief history of the comfort stations, Naval Station Norfolk, is the third in a series of blog posts illustrating the development of the facility.  Unless otherwise noted, the photographs in this series represent the results of a research project seeking images of Hampton Roads naval installations at the National Archives and Records Administration.  This research, performed by the Southeastern Archaeological Research, Incorporated (SEARCH) was funded by Commander, Navy Region Mid-Atlantic (CNRMA), as part of an ongoing effort to provide information on historic architectural resources at Navy bases in Hampton Roads.  The museum is pleased to present these images for the benefit of the general public and interested researchers.  As far as we know, all of these images are in the public domain and none of them have been published before.

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