Better Than Good: A Black Sailor’s War 1943-1945, by Adolph W. Newton with Winston Eldridge, Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, Md., 1999, $25.95.
In Better Than Good, Adolph Newton does an excellent job of recounting his experiences as one of the few African Americans to serve in the general enlisted ranks of the U.S. Navy during World War II. This is the first memoir to be published by a black sailor who served in the U.S. Navy after Franklin D. Roosevelt’s order to integrate that service.
At age 17, Adolph Newton forged his parent’s signature in order to enlist in the Navy and join the fight against the Japanese in the Pacific. Better Than Good is based on the journals Newton kept during the war. Also included are notations on race relations of the World War II era, derived from the author’s conversations with Southern blacks, American whites and various Europeans. He describes his life on an integrated warship, providing accounts of discrimination he and others encountered as well as his struggle for personal freedom through difficult times.
Newton reflects on the rarity of African-American officers during the 1940s, as opposed to today when there are many blacks who hold commissioned ranks. He recounts the many speeches he and fellow black seamen had to listen to that urged them to outdo the white sailors no matter what. They were frequently reminded of the opportunities that other African Americans would be given based on their performance. In essence, black men in the U.S. Navy were told that they would have to be better than good.
Better Than Good is the first published memoir of its kind. It is particularly inspiring to reflect that, despite the bigotry and hard times Newton encountered during the tour of duty he served from 1943 to 1948, he loved the Navy from beginning to end.