William Harvey Goines, First Black Navy SEAL, Has Died

Last month, Master Chief William Harvey Goines, the first African American Navy SEAL, passed away. He was an original member of the Navy SEAL unit when it was established under President John F. Kennedy.

In terms of Hip Hop, Master Chief Goines was the Goines family patriarch to two people who went on to perform in two groups whose music would become foundational to Hip Hop: his nephew Gregory Seay, percussionist drummer in the Isley Brothers band, and niece Kim Seay, vocalist in Parliament Funkadelic. Also connected to Hip Hop, while growing up, Master Chief William Harvey Goines was taught by poet laureate Nikki Giovanni’s father. Goines would frequently visit him as a leader in the local YMCA to learn life skills. Continue reading to find out how he descended from two Civil War Union soldiers, how he was denied access to local pools due to segregation, and more about Master Chief Goines’ life and heritage.

The New York Times reported that William Goines, who surmounted racial barriers in his Ohio birthplace and in the military before becoming the first and only Black man picked for the first Navy SEAL unit when the SEALS were founded in the early 1960s, died on June 10 in Virginia Beach. He was 87.

Marie (Davis) Goines, his 58-year-old wife, stated he died of a heart attack in the hospital.

Master Chief Goines, who was up in Lockland, Ohio, a Cincinnati suburb, retired from the Navy in 1987 as a Master Chief Petty Officer. During his 32 years in uniform, which included three tours of service during the Vietnam War, he was awarded the Bronze Star and the Navy Commendation Medal, among other medals.

Goines, as a Black child born to two Black parents navigating the Jim Crow environment, had previously experienced segregation. His father, Luther Harvey Goines, had a light complexion and was occasionally mistaken for white, but he never concealed his Blackness or his Black family, and he was frequently dismissed when employers discovered he was married to a Black lady and a proud Black man. Once, an employer chastised him for allowing “his maid” to bring him lunch at work. William Harvey Goines’ mother, Lauretta (Turner) Goines, delivered lunch to his father. His father instantly responded to the employer, “That is no maid, that is my wife – I’m a black man,” and they dismissed Luther Harvey Goines on the spot. Lockland officials imposed a tight segregation policy at the public swimming pool, and William Harvey Goines was barred from swimming because he was Black. “When integration came to the area, the way I understand it, they filled the pool in with rocks and gravel so nobody could swim in it,” stated the politician.

Despite this early bigotry, he taught himself to swim in a brook near his home alongside his brother Charles. He occasionally went to nearby Hartwell, where the municipal pool welcomed Blacks from 8 a.m. until noon on Saturdays. “They would blow a whistle and we’d have to get out,” William Harvey Goines told The Cincinnati Enquirer. “They would drain the pool to get it ready for the Whites.” Goines and his brother Charles went on to serve in the Navy with distinction, determined not to be deterred by hatred or impediments.

Goines retired in 1987 as Master Chief Petty Officer, the highest rank available to an enlisted navy member. His numerous commendations include the aforementioned Bronze Star, the Navy Commendation Medal, the Meritorious Service Medal, a Combat Action Ribbon, and the Presidential Unit Citation. In 2023, the United States Navy Memorial presented him with the Lone Sailor Award, which is given to Sea Service veterans who have succeeded in their respective careers during or after service. The award winners will join a group of men and women who have distinguished themselves by using their military experience to succeed in their later jobs and lives, all while exemplifying the basic values of Honor, Courage, and Commitment.

According to the Virginian-Pilot, Goines stayed committed to his country and community after retiring, first serving as the police chief in the Portsmouth, Virginia, school system for more than a decade and then volunteering to assist recruit minorities into the SEALs.
Within the Goines family, William Harvey Goines was affectionately referred to as “Billy” or “Uncle Billy.” On September 10th, 1936, he was born as the first son of Lauretta (Turner) Goines, or “Mama Laura” as the family called her, and her husband Luther Harvey Goines, whom they called “Daddy Luther”.

On both his mother’s and father’s sides, he was a great-grandson of Civil War Union soldiers, one of whom, Daniel Hamlin, was the only Black in his newly created battalion. William Harvey Goines other two great grandfathers had been a ‘negro’ Civil War Union Soldier, John Dudley, the father of his paternal grandmother Mathilda Dudley, who was born free in the South just after slavery, and in that community of free Black people, she had met his paternal grandfather James Harvey Goins, a descendant of free Blacks who also used intelligent cunning to remain free despite being labeled as Negro or Colored over decades living in pre-Civil War Northern Tenn

William Harvey Goines’ other great grandpa, John Turner, father of his maternal grandfather, was an enslaved human being in pre-Civil War Virginia but was emancipated with the withdrawal of troops from the Southern States in 1876.

John Turner traveled north from Virginia to Ohio and is thought to have become Ohio’s first Black dentist. John Turner’s home, which he built in 1880, was William Harvey Goines’ family home as a child, and it was where he and his two sisters and brothers (Beverly, Janet, Charles, and Gary) learned generosity, very deep love, and laughing every day – as the Goines family says they still do when they are together – and it was also where William Harvey Goines and his siblings learned very hard work, especially William, who was the oldest born.

In a 2020 interview with our CMO, Cherise P. (his niece), Goines stated that the family owned farmland and a lunch business next to the family home built by his liberated great grandpa, dentist John Turner. “Without a horse, I pushed the plow,” remarked William Harvey Goines. During his childhood, the family offered meals, fireworks displays, and other activities that Black families in Lockland would not have had access to otherwise.

William left Ohio and returned to Virginia to fight for the freedom of all Americans, the same state from which one of his great grandfathers had fled. As the only Black in his newly formed unit, the SEALs, he is celebrated as a highly trained, brave, and decorated hero.However, within his own bloodline, he simply, exclusively, and always loved even more furiously than he lived.

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