THE PLAY "The way he saw us changed forever the way we saw ourselves"
(playwright Robert Chafe)
THE USS TRUXTON before February 18, 1942
In the snowy predawn of February 18, 1942, a convoy of three American ships zigzagged up the North Atlantic toward Newfoundland. The destroyers Truxton and Wilkes with the supply ship Pollux were under radio silence to protect their position from the threat of German U-boats.
A storm was raging, visibility was zero, and the currents had turned wildly unpredictable. With only unreliable soundings to guide them across the jagged ocean floor, all three vessels ran aground on the sheer rock coast of Newfoundland. Attempts to carry lifelines ashore were thwarted by heavy surf, cold, oil slicks, and floating wreckage. A few sailors, however, overcame the odds and one scaled the cliffs to alert the communities of Lawn and St. Lawrence. Residents effected a super-human rescue operation. Timeline of the rescue
. THE USS TRUXTON on February 19, 1942 The USS Wilkes was eventually refloated, but the Pollux and the Truxton were hard aground and were subsequently battered to pieces. 203 young American sailors died in the struggle for survival. 185 survived. In large part they owe their lives to eight men of Lawn and almost the entire community of St. Lawrence, Newfoundland, who worked desperately to effect the rescue. It was one of the worst disasters in United States naval history..
At this time the US Navy was segregated. Of the 46 survivors from the USS Truxton, one was black.
When Lanier Phillips was rescued by residents of St. Lawrence they treated him the same as they treated the white survivors. This experience galvanised the Navy Mess Attendant to fight racial discrimination within the US Navy. Confronting the Navy's segregation policies, he later became the Navy's first black sonar technician
Outside the Navy he continued his struggle for civil rights.
1965 found him marching with Rev. Martin Luther King in Selma, Alabama.
In retirement, Lanier Phillips continued to speak out publically on behalf of civil rights in America.