Master Chief Petty Officer Carl Brashear, the first Black Master Diver in the U.S. Navy, poses with actor Cuba Gooding, Jr. on the set of the 2000 film Men of Honor, which was inspired by Brashear’s life.Â Gooding played Brashear in the movie.
Carl Brashear: First Black Master Diver
By Jason Lewis
Sentinel Staff Writer
Carl Maxie Brashear lived by two mottos. “It’s not a sin to get knocked down, but it’s a sin to stay down,” and “I’m not going to let anybody steal my dream.” Those two mottos motivated Brashear to become the first Black person to graduate from the U.S. Navy Diving & Salvage School as a salvage diver and the first Black Master Diver.
Brashear was born in 1931 in Tonieville, Larue County, Kentucky, where he was the child of sharecroppers. His father wanted better for him than driving a mule across a field. The Navy was a way out for Brashear. He enlisted in 1948, shortly after the Navy was desegregated.
The armed services may have been desegregated at that time, but that did not mean that Blacks had many opportunities. Most of them worked in the kitchen or performed custodial duties. Brashear was not content to flip burgers for the White soldiers, so he fought his way up the ranks, which led him to the U.S. Navy Diving & Salvage School in 1954. Brashear was constantly told “no” by White officers but that never stopped him from achieving his goals.
In 1960 Brashear became a Second Class Diver, and in 1964 he rose to the rank of First Class Diver.
Brashear’s career appeared to come to an end in March of 1966 when he had an injury to his left leg led to the limb to be amputated. But Brashear was not ready for retirement. It was a sin for him to not get back up. After a lengthy recovery and rehabilitation, Brashear became the first amputee to be certified as a diver in 1968.
In 1970 Brashear became the first Black U.S. Navy Master Diver. He served in that position for 10 years, and eventually achieved the rank of Master Chief Boatswain’s Mate.
Brashear retired from the U.S. Navy in 1979 as a Master Chief Petty Officer and Master Diver.
Brashear story was so inspirational that it was made into the movie Men of Honor, staring Cuba Gooding, Jr. and Robert De Niro.
Brashear did not stay down, and he did not let anybody take his dream away from him. Brashear passed away in 2006. He is buried at Woodlawn Memorial Gardens in Virginia Beach, Virginia.