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Guide to the Brooklyn Navy Yard oral history collection ARC.003

Brooklyn Historical Society
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Brooklyn Historical Society

Collection processed by Amy Lau, Mary Mann, Aliki Caloyeras, and Margaret Fraser

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on  , September 3, 2020
Finding aid written in English using Describing Archives: A Content Standard

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Oral History Interview with Robert Hammond, September 9, 2010

Biographical / Historical

Robert S. Hammond (1926- ) grew up in Philadelphia, PA, in a predominantly Italian neighborhood. His mother is African- and Native- American from a tribal-owned island off the coast of South Carolina and his father is African- and European-American and also from the South. Hammond enlisted in the Navy in 1943 when he was 17 years old. After joining the Navy choir, he was selected as one of seven African American men from his group to be enrolled in the Hospital Corps School. This was the first group of African American men to be enrolled in the medical training. He was later transferred to the Montford Point Marine base in North Carolina, the first base for black marines. After he left the Navy, Hammond moved to Brooklyn and completed high school at Boys High. He opened a restaurant and nightclub on Fulton Street in Bedford Stuyvesant. Hammond went to a historically black college and got his Master's in Public Health from the University of Michigan. He has had a long career in public health in California and elsewhere, for which he credits his medical training in the Navy and experiences at Montford Point.

Scope and Contents

During his interview, Robert S. Hammond (1926- ) discusses his experiences working for the Navy in Brooklyn and North Carolina. He mentions that he did not experience much racism until he spent some time in South Carolina when he was a teenager and talks about his shock and anger during these experiences. He explains that the Navy training at the time was segregated and that he experienced racism from some of the commanding officers. Navy hospitals were also segregated at the time and, Hammond explains, that black men in the military were not receiving equal health care. He describes his experiences at the New York Naval Hospital in the Brooklyn Navy Yard where he received further training before being transferred to the Montford Point Marine base in North Carolina. At Montford, Hammond took on many healthcare initiatives for the thousands of black Marines whose health was neglected because of the segregation and discrimination in southern healthcare. These initiatives included education and awareness about vaccinations, parasites, venereal disease, hygiene, and many other public health missions. While on leave, Hammond came down with appendicitis and was taken to the New York Naval Hospital where he had trained. While he was at the Hospital, a curtain was pulled around his bed to segregate him from the rest of the (white) ward and he recalls the hospital staff's reaction to his mother's visit since she looks white. He also describes visits from Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan, and the actor Frederic March. Interview conducted by Sady Sullivan.

Conditions Governing Access

This interview can be accessed onsite at Brooklyn Historical Society's Othmer Library and online at the Oral History Portal.

Subject Organizations

  • New York Naval Shipyard
  • U.S. Naval Hospital (New York, N.Y.)
  • Boys' High School (Brooklyn, New York, N.Y.)

Subject Topics

  • African Americans
  • Health education
  • Hospitals
  • Military hospitals
  • Jazz
  • Marines
  • Musicians
  • Warships
  • Race relations -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Racism -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • World War, 1939-1945

Subject Places

  • South Carolina
  • North Carolina
  • Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.)
  • Bedford-Stuyvesant (New York, N.Y.)
  • Philadelphia (Pa.)