Justice  /  Retrieval

A New ERA for Women in the Navy

Admiral Elmo R. Zumwalt, Jr, z-grams, and the all-volunteer force.

Forty miles north of Chicago, the Great Lakes Naval Training Station is often the nexus through which recruits from across the country complete basic training and become sailors. Recruits brought with them differing, often contentious, regional attitudes toward people of color. The commotion at the main gate indicated to RADM Kauffman and the Washington-based race relations team that Black sailors were “impatient with ‘the system,’” according to editors at Jet. While Kauffman solicited and welcomed advice from Black leaders in Chicago, changes at Great Lakes were, at best, cosmetic and superficial. The Naval Exchange stocked Afro-Sheen and other natural hair products, and the base library kept abreast of recent titles by Black authors and carried recent issues of Ebony and Jet. Twenty-three year old Gunners Mate (2c) Harry Tyner was not impressed, identifying these new additions as the means to “buy us all off with small things” while the Navy seemed to ignore the larger issue of discrimination.

It is unknown to what degree, if any, the racial disturbance at Great Lakes affected CNO Zumwalt’s efforts to suppress racial enmity in the Navy. What is clear, however, is that Zumwalt “came to realize for the first time that the Navy did even worse things to its minority people than give them demeaning jobs and stunt their careers. Day after day,” he wrote in his autobiography, “it inflicted upon them, sometimes without even knowing it was doing so, personal slights, affronts, and indignities of a peculiarly humiliating kind.” The CNO’s revelation spurred him to pen “Z-gram 66” in December 1970, in which he simultaneously admonished and demolished the “artificial barriers of race, color, and religion” when he called for equal opportunity. Noticeably absent from this list was any mention of sex.

In identifying the beneficiaries of Z-gram 66, Zumwalt divided his sailors along the intersection of race. No one aspect of personhood can be experienced in isolation, Black feminist scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw reasoned. In fact, the Defense Manpower Commission acknowledged in 1976 that “a black woman in this sense belongs to two minority groups—black and women.” If taking into consideration the multitudinous demographics that make up a person, Black, Indigenous, Latin, and Asian American women could have included themselves among the minority race beneficiaries of Z-gram 66. Their womanhood, however, precluded them from doing so.