By Eric PilgrimFebruary 6, 2019
FORT KNOX, Ky. -- In 1955, Everett Frederic Morrow became the first African American to hold an executive position in the White House, as Administrative Officer for Special Projects, under President Dwight Eisenhower.
Ten years earlier, many predicted his rise to greatness, although few, if any, could have known just how high. In September 1945, a then Capt. Morrow reported to Godman Field at Fort Knox to take command of Personnel Services.
He had already established a name for himself on race relations at that time, having served as the coordinator of branches at the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People for the previous five years.
The history of his time at Fort Knox went unnoticed for decades until late last year when Matthew Rector, historic preservation specialist at the Fort Knox Cultural Resources Office, stumbled upon Morrow while perusing old Godman Field Beacon newspapers.
"If you think about it, thousands and thousands of men passed through here throughout history," said Rector. "Undoubtedly, you're going to have some famous figures come through here and there. We know of a number of them, but I wasn't aware of [Morrow's] presence here."
Rector said as part of a Centennial display exhibit in 2018, the Louisville Public Library pulled out the only known complete collection of the publication still in existence. Rector received permission to carefully capture the newspapers in images.
"That's how we found a photograph of Eugene Tyree, our only Tuskegee Airman buried in the Post Cemetery," said Rector.
As a weekly newspaper, Godman Field Beacon was first published at Fort Knox in November 1943, during the height of World War II, by the Base Special Service Office. Editor Leonard Bean was responsible for its look and contents before enlisted personnel took over as subsequent editors. It was during its roughly three-year run that Morrow graced one of the front covers -- the Sept. 17, 1945 edition. The story highlights his credentials to the community.
"One day, I was going through the files of the newspaper in my computer and looking up names of figures that they did highlights on," said Rector. "I came across E. Frederic Morrow and thought, 'Okay, who's this guy?' so I read about him and looked him up.
Rector said he uses a subscription to newspapers.com to find more extensive information on history. When he searched for Morrow in the program--
"Boom! Tons of hits with his name, and I thought, 'Oh, this is somebody,'" said Rector. "I confess, I really wasn't aware of his position in the Eisenhower administration. As a historian I'm embarrassed to say that.
"My focus is on Fort Knox history; I don't really go into presidential administration history," continued Rector. "That's just not my niche."
Morrow's time with the Army was relatively short-lived. According to historical documents, while he served honorably in the military during the war, he never deployed; instead, leaving the Army shortly after the war. However, he had a brother, William Morrow, who devoted a career to serving in the Army.
Morrow's fame came years after leaving the Army, when Eisenhower took office. While another brother, John Morrow, served as ambassador to Independent Guinea during the administration, Morrow found himself in the White House as part of the staff and coordinator of Internal Management Affairs -- the first African American to serve in such a position.
"This was a very smart guy," said Rector. "He was top of his class in [Officers Candidate School.] He was head of his debating club in high school. He was a great orator and very active in the [National Association for the Advancement of Colored People] before joining the Army."
Rector said he learned that Morrow was already making his mark in 1946, while still in uniform, calling for the government to provide affordable housing to African American veterans returning from the war.
"He's very vocal, even throughout his time in service; writing in the newspapers," said Rector. "He was an advocate. He was a guy who wanted change and fought for it."
One mystery has so far eluded Rector in his search to learn more about Morrow -- where he was buried when he died July 20, 1994. Still, he said the search has been fruitful, and rewarding.
"I'm glad I stumbled across this man," said Rector. "It was nice reading up on him. He is definitely one of our distinguished Fort Knox alumni."