By JMC Public AffairsMarch 11, 2009
The following is an exerpt from McAlester Army Ammunition Plant historical records, then known as McAlester Naval Depot. This account details events from 1943, a time when McAlester Naval Depot was home to some African-American Marines following World War II. Today, McAlester is one of Joint Munitions Command's key power projection platforms. As the nation's premier bomb manufacturing, and ammunition and missile maintenance facility, McAAP partners with commercial industry to expand capabilities and strengthen their position within the Department of Defense.
The State of Oklahoma has and enforces stringent racial segregation laws -- commonly referred to as "Jim Crow" laws. Bitter resentment was expressed when it was learned that negro enlisted personnel, both Navy and Marines, were being assigned to the depot, but the commanding officer declined to request their removal when it was obviously the department's policy to use these ratings at this depot. It appears that at least this part of Oklahoma is neither North where the negro is accepted, nor South where he is understood. Instead, the unenlightened natives of this area hold a bitter, resentful, and unreasoning hatred of negroes in general. In this atmosphere, the racial problem assumes potentially dangerous proportions.
In November 1943, within a few days of the arrival of the present commanding officer, a near race-riot occurred at the main garage, due to a negro having entered a toilet room assigned to white employees. It was found that, although separate toilets for negroes and whites had been provided in the design and construction of the depot, they were not marked by appropriate signs due to the contention of certain "agitators" that such markings constituted "discrimination." No serious objection was raised to the separate use, so long as facilities were maintained equal, but markings were resented. It was carefully explained that markings were necessary for all concerned, just as much so as designating facilities for "men" and "women." The incident passed, and all toilet facilities were marked. This demonstrated the value of complete understanding and full confidence.
There were other incidents, some quite serious, and potentially dangerous in the view of the racial attitude. In each case very prompt action was taken by officer of the depot, a fact which helped develop confidence in "official procedures." At first, the greatest danger was that unthinking elements of both races would try to settle disputes in "their own way." There were two cases of attempted rape of white women, but in each case the guilty man was apprehended by depot authorities within less than an hour.
While little apprehension is now felt at the depot concerning racial problems, this question continues the source of worry with respect to city of McAlester. Members of the local police force have several times demonstrated hot-tempered impatience, and it has been fortunate that military shore patrol have been readily available.
On the reservation, the general policy of a "Fair deal for all" has been consistently followed. Consequently, men and women of both races have worked side by side for nearly two years in generally peaceful cooperation.
"I feel diversity is critical to establishing a balanced workforce. As our records indicate, yes, we employed minorities and women across time. However, if you were to critically examine the changes over time, the most significant thing you would find is the effect legislation and EEO policies have made (toward) diversifying the workforce, creating better and equal opportunities for all minorities."
--Keri Pleasant, Joint Munitions Command historian