The USS PC-1264 was a PC-461- class submarine chaser built for the United States Navy. The vessel was one of two U.S. Navy ships operated primarily by an African American crew during World War II. The other ship was the escort destroyer, the USS Mason (DE-529).
On December 9, 1941, a telegram was sent by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) to U.S. Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox, asking that African Americans be accepted into the Navy to serve other than as Messman (kitchen help) but the Navy refused to change its policy. A week later, on December 17, 1941, a letter from the NAACP to President Franklin Roosevelt on the matter prompted him to contact Mark Etheridge, chairman of the Fair Employment Practice Committee, to investigate the Navy’s policy. The committee also received a negative response from the Navy, but congressional and public pressure forced that branch of the service to eventually change course. On June 1, 1942, the U.S. Navy announced that African Americans would be allowed to enlist for the general service.
On November 28, 1943, the PC-1264 was completed by the Consolidated Shipbuilding Co. in Morris Heights, New York, and launched. The PC-1264 was a submarine chaser intended to intercept and destroy German U-boats stationed off the coast of the United States. On April 25, 1944, the Navy commissioned white officer Lt. Eric S. Purdon to serve as the warship’s first commanding officer. Its crew consist of 65 enlisted African Americans as a crew, led by five white officers. On April 30, 1944, after four days of intense drill, the PC-1264 went up the Hudson River to Lona Island, New York, to load the gun’s ammunition. After loading the pellet, Purdon was expected to moor there for the night but wasn’t allowed to because of the large ammunition store there. Purdon called the duty office of the nearby U.S. Military Academy at West Point and asked if the ship could be tied at its pier. The PC-1264 was welcomed and numerous visitors inspected the boat.
In the coming months, the PC-1264 engaged in convoy escort duties and independent anti-submarine duty along the Atlantic coast. Unfortunately, the ship experienced numerous command changes. Lt. Purdon served as commander from April 25, 1944, to September 17, 1945, through more than half of the warship’s brief history. Lt. Ernest V. Hardman replaced him as commanding officer until October 31, 1945, but lasted only one month. The third commanding officer was Lt. Jack W. Sutherland, who served from October 31, 1945, until February 7, 1946, when the PC-1264 was decommissioned. On May 2, 1945, Lt. Samuel L. Gravely Jr. reported aboard PC-1264 as its first Black officer but he never commanded the vessel. Gravely would eventually become the first Black admiral in the U.S. Navy, in 1971.
After it was decommissioned as a warship, PC-1264 was transferred to the United States Maritime Commission (MARCOM). The ship disappeared from the historical record until two 1990-era photographs showed the ship heavily rusted but still afloat amid other hulks at the Donjon Marine yard in New York City.