The Long Blue Line: Remembering centurium Alphonzo Barbour—eyewitness to African American history

Published: 24 February 2023

By Vincent W. Patton, Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard, United States Coast Guard retired
via the United States Coast Guard web site

Alphonzo Ferdinand Barbour

Alphonzo Barbour

[Editor’s note: In 1992, Yeoman Senior Chief Vince Patton (later MCPOCG #8) interviewed retired Commissary Steward First Class Alphonzo F. Barbour and published this story in the Commandant’s Bulletin magazine. Barbour was born in 1892, turned 100 years old in August 1992 and passed away that November, just a few months after this interview. He was interred with honors at Arlington National Cemetery.]

Retired Stewards Mate Second Class Alphonzo Ferdinand Barbour waited patiently for the knock on the door from two Coast Guardsmen who stopped by to pay him a visit. Emma, his housekeeper, greeted the men. She smiled and pointed, “Mr. Barbour is anxiously awaiting you.”

Barbour was waiting in his white messman’s uniform, proudly displaying his Good Conduct Medal and other awards, sitting at attention, just a few days shy of his 100th birthday (Aug. 22)

Barbour retired from the Coast Guard Sept. 1, 1941 and represents the earliest living linkage of black history in the Coast Guard. He endured a Coast Guard career in which seeing blacks above the rank of first-class petty officer was unique, if not surprisingly odd.

Barbour enlisted in the Coast Guard June 10, 1924, in his hometown of Washington, D.C., after spending almost four years in the Navy, serving in World War I as a mess attendant first class (E-3).

“I really loved the sea, especially after spending a few months working on my sister’s farm near Richmond, Virginia,” Barbour said. “I wasn’t afraid of hard work, but the smell of those animals and getting dirty all day was not too thrilling for a city boy like me.”

Before he joined the Navy, Barbour completed chiropractor’s school in Washington. After having a difficult time trying to find work as a chiropractor, he convinced a Navy recruiter to let him enlist by offering him a free chiropractic treatment.

That’s where his love for the sea began.

After serving aboard a destroyer in World War I, where he was a mess attendant for the officers’ wardroom, Barbour began reading fascinating stories of the Revenue Cutter and Life-Saving Services.

Barbour said he became intrigued with the numerous rescues and law enforcement missions of the two services.

“I read about this station on the Outer Banks manned completely by coloreds,” Barbour said. “If I didn’t read it myself, I would have never believed it. Imagine that–a lifesaving station with nothing but coloreds. I used to wonder what the people who were saved by them thought.”

The station was the former Pea Island Lifesaving Station in North Carolina.

Within months after reading that story, the Lifesaving and Revenue Cutter Services merged to become the Coast Guard. Barbour started setting his goals on becoming a Coast Guardsman.

Read the entire article on the USCG web site.

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