As the world recovered from the carnage of World War II, an ambitious recruit named Carl Brashear was embarking on his military career. But as a young Black man in a world still beset by segregation, his road to success was not an easy one. And when he wasn’t dodging racism from his peers, he was risking his life hundreds of feet beneath the sea.
Rising through the ranks
For years, Brashear struggled to rise through the ranks, beset by challenges at every turn. And during one particularly dark episode, a freak accident nearly cost him his life. But eventually, he came back stronger, becoming one of the first ever Black master divers — and silencing his critics at last.
With a list of honors as long as his arm — and a Hollywood movie based on his story — Brashear ended his life in a blaze of glory. But it began as a much more humble affair, in the small Texas town of Tonieville. There, on January 19, 1931, two sharecroppers named Gonzella and McDonald welcomed their sixth child.
Four years later, Gonzella and McDonald relocated to Sonora, Texas, where they took on a farm and continued to grow their family, eventually having ten more children. And when Brashear reached the seventh grade, he left school to go to work in the fields. But he didn’t plan on staying in small-town Texas for long.
Joining the Navy
According to reports, Brashear dreamed of joining the military from a young age. But when he tried to enlist in the U.S. Army in 1948 his application was rejected. At the time, the military was still segregated, and Black soldiers faced multiple barriers at every stage of their career. Undaunted, he turned to the Navy instead.