"An Interview with CNO's Minority Affairs Officer."
All Hands. no. 651. Washington, D.C. GPO, April 1971. P. 6-11.
SuDoc No.: D208.3
Lieutenant Commander William S. Norman, Minority Affairs Assistant to the Chief of Naval
Operations, and an African-American, is interviewed. A personal history is provided as well
as his views on where the Navy stood at that point in eliminating discrimination.
He grew up in a Navy town. Perhaps because of this, when the time came, he decided –
with some skepticism – to give the Navy a try. But first he wanted the best possible
He was a member of a black family living in Norfolk, Va., and the education he sought was to
keep him at the books for a considerable period of time. First came four years at West Virginia
Wesleyan, concentrating on chemistry and mathematics. Graduating with a bachelor of science
degree, he spent a year of graduate work at the University of Wisconsin, and then a year
In 1960, he applied for and was accepted by the Aviation Officer Candidate School. He was
commissioned an ensign in March 1962.
This was the beginning of the Navy career of the first Minority Affairs Assistant to the Chief
of Naval Operations, Lieutenant Commander William S. Norman. His story is told on this and the
Educational opportunities were the early keynotes of LCDR Norman's life in the Navy, but from
that beginning he had to consider whether this was an example of "tokenism," or whether
his duty assignments as a black officer would be equally challenging. Designated a naval flight
officer, he attended Airborne Early Warning and Airborne Electronic Countermeasures School. His
first duty with the Fleet was with Carrier Airborne Early Warning Group 11. He was then ordered
as assistant CIC officer aboard the carrier USS Constellation (CVA 64). As a young
lieutenant, he was assigned to the Air Weapons Systems Analysis staff of the Deputy Chief of
Naval Operations for Air.
It was during this time that then Lieutenant Norman decided for a Navy career. More study and
classwork, this time at American University, where he received his master's degree in
international relations. This was followed by a tour as an instructor at the U.S. Naval Academy,
during which time he also served as a White House social aide.
But, like many black men in this period, LCDR Norman had become frustrated with racism in the
United States society, and therefore in the Navy. He had already decided to leave the sea
service in 1970, when the Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Elmo R. Zumwalt, Jr., USN, called
him. "I came here with a great deal of skepticism," he said, "in spite of what I
had read about the new CNO."
Admiral Zumwalt had followed LCDR Norman's career with more than usual interest. CNO knew that
LCDR Norman was first of all, an intelligent, capable naval officer. He knew, too, that LCDR
Norman cared about the depths to which racial inequities ran in this country, and Admiral Zumwalt
wanted LCDR Norman on his staff as Special Assistant for Minority Affairs.
LCDR Norman formed a small staff, took a refurbished, carpeted, one-window office in the
Pentagon's "E" ring, and set about his duties. For a man 33 years old, few jobs could
be more challenging, or carried out by a man more qualified.
How did Admiral Zumwalt convince you to come here?
One of the things I felt strongly about was that I was not merely going to provide visibility for
the Navy. If in fact the Navy wanted me to come here to do a job, and I was going to have the
support of the Chief of Naval Operations, then in fact I felt a commitment on my own part to do
so. On the other hand, if at any time I felt I was hereto be seen and not to set forth the kind
of dynamic programs and policies we are talking about. I wanted no part of it.
How often do you get to see him?
It is significant that every Tuesday morning I have breakfast with CNO and ride to work with him.
We talk about problems we are having, and I advise him on particular matters. He, in turn, has
a chance to talk with me. It is extremely important to have this continued personal contact. I
know that he is interested, and he gets a chance to be apprised of all the things that are going
on. To me, this is an indication of all the support I could ask of any individual in his
I have never yet gone to him with any program, any proposal, that he hasn't given his complete
consideration... and his acquiescence. It has had a humbling effect. Now, when I talk to the
Chief of Naval Operations about any proposal, I make every attempt to have it thoroughly staffed,
looking into it in terms of the pros and cons, so that he will have the best information to make
a decision. Because ultimately, it is CNO's decision.
What are Admiral Zumwalt's priorities as far as race relations are concerned?
Admiral Zumwalt puts primary consideration on the people in the Navy. He's "people
oriented." This is not in any way to say that he does not believe we should have the best
possible hardware, but hardware is going to be ineffective unless we have good people operating
it and utilizing it. Because people have one of the highest priorities, the interaction of people
in race relations has a high priority as part of this overall people program.
How long do you think your services here will last?
It is open ended. I have made several commitments. I have promised that we intend to set up
dynamic plans, policies and programs and an institutional framework to guarantee equal
opportunity and treatment, and I've given my word that we are going to do this.
I think that the true measure as to the success of my job will be when I can walk in and say to
the CNO, "You no longer need me as a special assistant for minority affairs." That's
what I'm looking for and I hope that it is going to be soon.
I am realistic enough to know that we are not going to solve all our problems; we are not going
to have any kind of panacea in the Navy as long as we have inequitable treatment in civilian
life. On the other hand, I think we can ensure we are moving in the proper direction. We can
ensure that we are removing all the vestiges of discrimination in the Navy, and we can ensure
that we at least have a dynamic race relations program and an institutional framework to continue
to guarantee that we have a viable program.
How do you implement the CNO mandate to you in race relations?
Admiral Zumwalt is committed to instituting dynamic programs to guarantee equal opportunity and
treatment for all Navymen. To this end we have directed our attention to devising plans and
policies to improve the lot of minority Navymen and foster better race relations. It is not
our intent to supersede the work of the various minority affairs action officers in BuPers,
CHINFO, and OpNav, but rather to give direction and promote coordination. Each week I meet
with these officers and we discuss our problems, progress, and future plans.
In addition we prepare a weekly situation report on our efforts in minority affairs which is
distributed to senior officers in BuPers and OpNav. The impact of these meetings has been an
increase in efficiency and coordination and an acceleration of real gains in the area of minority
Further, I meet and maintain liaison with the leading naval officers in Washington, as well as
community leaders and other governmental leaders, in an effort to ensure that we obtain the best
information possible to achieve our goals and objectives. Another purpose of these meetings is
to give advice and guidelines to commanders to assist them in implementing minority affairs and
race relations programs.
It is also important that I maintain a close working relationship with various groups in the
minority communities such as university presidents, civil rights groups, social actions
committees and inner city organization[s]. These consist of personal meetings, correspondence,
and speaking engagements. Through such personal contacts, the minority community gets a clearer
and more realistic perception of the Navy and we, in turn, obtain a better understanding of how
to improve our effectiveness in relating to minority Navymen.
Since racial relations are primarily a matter of individual attitudes, how can an
"institutional framework" touch upon people's attitudes?
In order to affect attitudes, we have to do some basic things first. The Navy has had a
reputation in the black community of being discriminatory. This, in fact, goes back to the
racial inequities in the Navy, starting around the Spanish-American war in 1898 up to and
including World War II. Black people who served in the Navy, regardless of their educational
training or experience, were relegated to the steward's rating.
As a consequence, most black people who think of the Navy today think of its obsequious
relegation of black Navymen as stewards. As a result, we have a bad image. So first of all,
we have to change this image.
The second thing is the disproportion of black men and women in the Navy. We have only 509
black officers out of an officer corps of almost 80,000, and not quite 34,000 black enlisted men.
These are not indications that we have equal opportunity and treatment to the average person
looking at the Navy. For example, we have no flag officers either.
Centrally, before we begin to affect attitudes, we have to ensure that inequitable treatment has
been removed from the Navy. And this in itself means that we have to come up with plans,
programs, and analyses of things we do in order to attempt to ascertain if in fact we are
So we look at various aspects of the Navy separately – and we try to correct those
discriminatory practices that exist. Once we are assured that we have worked in all these
particular areas, and are in the process of trying to attain and guarantee equality of
opportunity, then we go to another step in attempting attitudinal changes. That is to provide
educational programs to foster and improve race relations.
Every person needs to feel he has "infinite worth and dignity," that he is recognized
as an individual. To ensure this we must come up with educational programs to foster better
race relationships. After we have done this, then we are in the process of trying to do something
We are not trying to enforce any attitudes whatsoever – our goal is to cause individuals to
look at themselves – to see what they are doing to become aware of the fact that inequitable
treatment against racial minorities is not in the best interests of the Navy or in the interests
of what any of us are trying to do.
The purpose of this program is not to tell any individual to espouse any kind of philosophical
belief, but we are saying that he should look at individuals as human beings. Instead of
changing attitudes, we are trying to get individuals to look at themselves, to see what they
are doing, so that they themselves will have the impetus to change.
If the Navy in fact reflects the society at large, how can changes be brought in the
Navy without being affected in society first?
The Navy, as a microcosm of the total American community, can at least ensure that the segment
we are concerned about is guaranteed equal opportunity and treatment. We can definitely do
something in the Navy that we do not have the wherewithal to do in the over-all community.
We also hope to do some things that will spill over into the American populace – the total
society at large.
As an example, one of the most severe problems that we have in the total community is housing.
Black Navymen, in general, dread a permanent change of duty station. They know that whenever
they go to a new community they are going to have to go through the indignities, their families
as well, of finding a house in a community where they may not be welcome. Every black man, just
like any other man in the American society at large, wants the best home he can provide for his
family within the income he is able to provide. There is not a community around any base in the
continental United States where black people still do not experience discrimination in trying to
find housing for their families.
The Chief of Naval Operations was sorely distressed when he found out the problems that black
Navymen were having in trying to locate housing for their families. I am sorely distressed
because it affects me every place I go. What we are attempting to do now is to try, at least,
to ensure that our military personnel are able to find proper housing around military bases.
We have been working with communities, the leaders within the community, to try to ensure that
equal opportunity in housing is enforced also.
The step that we are taking is essentially this. We will ensure that no member of the naval
community is going to be denied housing on a racial basis. If the housing is not open to all
members of the Navy, then it will be open to none of our members. I feel this is the kind of
approach we are going to have to take – I would like to call it an enlightened and
realistic approach to try and solve our problems in this area.
Are you really of the opinion that one of these days your service will no longer be
needed – that the Navy will not have a race problem?
No question about it. I have cautious optimism now. In view of the support we have at the CNO
and SecNav level, and in view of the programs we have been able to initiate, and in view of the
organizational framework that has been created and is now existing and in view that we
have all the acting officers in the area of minority affairs in BuPers and OpNav working, and
the program we are continuing to do, I am convinced that at least we will have the organizational
framework and the people dedicated to improving our racial problems – operating in a viable
way – so that sometime in the immediate future, hopefully within a year, I am going to be
able to say, "Admiral Z, I think we have the organization moving in the way the organization
ought to be moving. We have the system doing the kinds of things it ought to have been doing in
the past, and you no longer need a person here with you now with the primary billet of advising
you on minority matters. The system will take care of itself."
What are your most important accomplishments to date?
It is emphasized that our accomplishments are a team effort under the direction of Admiral
Although not inclusive, and in any order or priority, some of our other more important
accomplishments are as follows:
- One of the first acts we performed after I arrived was to meet with black officers and
enlisted personnel and their wives which resulted in ALNAV 51 and NAVOP Z-66 and other policies.
Then we concentrated on specific problem areas.
- We authorized the establishment of six NROTC units in predominantly black colleges and
universities of which two are being established this year.
- Of great personal satisfaction to me was our decision to cease the recruitment of Filipinos
exclusively as stewards and to make the rate comparable in personnel balance to the other rates of
the Navy; all Filipinos are now recruited as seaman recruits and we are accelerating the transfer
of Filipino stewards to other rates within the Navy to achieve a better balance.
- In January, Admiral Zumwalt established an Advisory Committee for Race Relations and Minority
Affairs composed of two admirals, three captains and myself. This group has been an effective
instrument in helping the CNO to develop and monitor his actions in the area of race relations
and minority affairs.
- Of notable accomplishment by this groups was the preparation of a Charter which set forth
broad goals and principal objectives to be achieved. The Charter also identified tasks for
implementation as well as action assignments and milestones. The goals, objectives and tasks
will serve as guidelines for the Navy's efforts in race relations and minority affairs for the
next three to five years.
These are some of our accomplishments which represent initial steps in our continuing efforts in
the area of race relations and minority affairs.
- First, a coordination and direction of efforts in the entire area of minority affairs
including selection of more minorities.
- Second, the establishment of billets for a minority officer in each of our main recruiting
- Third, introduction of programs to increase the percentage of minorities in OCS, NROTC, U.S.
Naval Academy, and enlisted school.
- Fourth, initiation of a research study to identify and eliminate cultural and geographic bias
from Navy qualifying tests.
- Fifth, selection of a black advertising firm to develop black recruiting programs.
- Sixth, establishment of programs to ensure equal opportunity in housing.
- And seventh, personal letters to all flag officers, unit commanders and commanding officers
containing direction for our efforts in the minority affairs area.