LCdr Maxie M. Berry Jr, USCG (Ret)

This article appeared on February 11, 1996, in The Baltimore Sun. It relates the story of Maxie Berry Jr., who served aboard SEBAGO as a Steward Third Class in 1946. Berry, an African American, was a third generation Coastie - both his father and grandfather were surfmen at Lifeboat Station Pea Island, NC, and several siblings also served.


Friend, mentor, officer, example Coast Guardsman: Maxie McKinley Berry Jr. was the first chief of the military's civil rights division and someone others tried to emulate. A building at the Curtis Bay yard is named in his memory.

February 11, 1996 | By Consella A. Lee, SUN STAFF

For 30 years, Maxie McKinley Berry Jr. swabbed decks, kept tabs on supplies and intervened in discrimination disputes in a Coast Guard career that took him from Boston to Honolulu with stops in Baltimore.

Now, the Coast Guard has honored Mr. Berry, the first chief of the military's civil rights division, by naming the bachelor officers' quarters at Curtis Bay Coast Guard Yard for him. The BOQ now is called Berry Hall.

Mr. Berry, who died in 1991, retired from the Coast Guard as a lieutenant commander in 1976. But he quickly went back to work for the Coast Guard as a civilian.

"[He] was slightly below a god to me," said retired Chief Petty Officer Freddie B. Bonds IV, who grew up around the corner from the Berry family on St. Georges Avenue in Northeast Baltimore. "He was a person to sit and talk to -- someone to know."

Mr. Berry, whose grandfather joined the Coast Guard in 1897, continued the family's Coast Guard tradition when he enlisted in July 1945.

He was assigned to Curtis Bay for basic training, then to Alameda, Calif., where he made bunks, cleaned quarters and helped the cook as a third class steward's mate aboard the cutter Sebago. Mr. Berry was discharged in May 1946, but returned to the Coast Guard a year later because decent civilian jobs for blacks were hard to find.

He was stationed periodically at Curtis Bay, where he worked in the post exchange, during the next 20 years. He met his wife there in the summer of 1947.

Hannah M. Kerr, who had just graduated from what then was Coppin Normal College, and some friends had gone to the base movie theater where Mr. Berry worked part time as a ticket taker.

"They had movies for 10 cents, and civilians could come in," said Mrs. Berry, 70. "One of the girls I was with knew him and introduced us." The ticket taker "didn't catch my eye," she said. "I caught his."

Although Mrs. Berry said he was "becoming annoying" by staring at her, she accepted his offer to walk her to the gate after the movie. They were married a year later.

Mr. Berry rose through the enlisted ranks and become an officer in 1971. In October 1971, Lieutenant Berry was part of a contingent sent from headquarters in Washington to Governors Island, N.Y., to help settle a dispute between black and white Coast Guardsmen over complaints of unequal punishment for racial slurs.

By 1974, Mr. Berry was promoted to lieutenant commander and put in charge of the Military Equal Opportunity Division with the Office of Civil Rights in Washington.

©1996 The Baltimore Sun

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