Past Residents: John Wesley Franklin (ca. 1888-1972)
Here’s one of our former Park View residents that I thought was interesting — John Wesley Franklin. He lived at 3108 Park Place, NW, from around 1946 until his death in 1972.
According to his obituaries in the Evening Star and Washington Post, he retired from the Navy in 1928. During World War I he served on a number of warships as a chief steward, and after the war was a personal steward on the Presidential Yacht USS Mayflower — where he served under Presidents Wilson, Harding, Coolidge and Hoover.
After retiring from the Navy, Franklin became a civilian employee of the Washington Navy Yard, where he remained for 30 years.
Franklin was a founder of the James E. Reese Post of the American Legion and was also a founder of the Sailors Association Post No. 1 of Washington.
To better understand the context of what it was like for an African American to serve in the US Navy during the first half of the 20th century, I have included the following excerpt from a brief history written by Rudi Williams.
History, People comment below, or link to this permanent URL from your own site.
After the Civil War, African Americans served in unlimited roles among the Navy’s enlisted ranks. However, that’s when the custom started that “encouraged” blacks and other men of color to become officers’ stewards and cooks.
The first decades of the 20th century brought increasing restrictions on the role of African Americans in society and in the Navy, according to naval historians. The enlisted rates remained open to all men, but African Americans were pushed into servant roles.
The Navy’s racial segregation policies limited African Americans’ participation in World War I and, after the war, barred black enlistments altogether from 1919 to 1932. The only black sailors in uniform during that period were the ones aboard in 1919 who were allowed to stay to retire.
Even with its distinct policy of racial segregation, the Navy permitted mixed racial crews. Records show that while African Americans saw limited naval action during World War I, one of them, Edward Donohue Pierson, earned the French Croix de Guerre for valor when he was wounded aboard the USS Mount Vernon when it was torpedoed off the coast of France.
In 1917, John Henry (“Dick”) Turpin became the first African American chief petty officer, the Navy’s highest enlisted rank at the time. Turpin enlisted in 1896 and survived the sinking of the battleship USS Maine in Havana harbor in February 1898. A chief gunner’s mate, he was one of the blacks allowed to stay in 1919 and retired in 1925.
When African Americans were allowed into the Navy again in 1932, it was as stewards and mess attendants.