A Tribute to Black Veterans: Celebrating the 100th Birthday of the Reverend James E. Blakely

A Tribute to Black Veterans: Celebrating the 100th Birthday of the Reverend James E. Blakely

Photo: Majority Leader Cumbo Joined by Black, Latino, and Asian Caucus and Colleagues to Celebrate 100th Birthday of African-American Pearl Harbor Veteran

NEW YORK, NY — Majority Leader Laurie Cumbo joined Council colleagues in the City Hall Chambers to celebrate the 100th Birthday of the Reverend James E. Blakely on January 23, 2020, the oldest known African-American Pearl Harbor Veteran on record.

James E. Blakely was born on January 8, 1920 in Arkansas and enlisted in the United States Navy in September 1939. He was stationed abroad during the Pearl Harbor attacks, shipmate to the notable Doris “Dory” Miller. Later during World War II, Reverend Blakely served aboard the USS President Jackson in major combat operations in the Pacific Theater, including the battles of Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima, the Marshal Islands and Guam, helping to transport troops to the battlefield and evacuate the dead and wounded.

Today, at the age of 100, we are proud to celebrate him not only for his longevity but also for the tremendously positive impact he has had in so many lives. We appreciate his service to our country, and are honored to share this milestone with him and his family. He was presented with a proclamation signed by Speaker Corey Johnson and over 30 members of the City Council.

In attendance were Blakely’s friends, family, peers, and most notably Mr. Clyburn Sowell, a fellow veteran who served aboard the USS Bullwar. Sowell recently celebrated his 95th birthday. 

“The contributions of our Black veterans often go unsung and unnoticed, but today we were able to recognize two amazing men, the Reverend James E. Blakely and Mr. Clyburn Sowell, whose life stories embody what it truly means to be heroes,” said Majority Leader Laurie Cumbo. “The celebration of Mr. Blakely’s 100th birthday is a blessing, a great accomplishment, and an incredible milestone for us to be able to share. We appreciate the service of men like James and Clyburn who have set a standard of excellence, bravery and courage, for generations to follow. We hope that this ceremony will bring awareness to the accomplishments of the Black veteran community.”

“On the occasion of Rev. Blakely’s 100th birthday,” said Council Member Deborah Rose, “it gives me great pleasure to join my colleagues in honoring his legacy of service to our nation. Having grown up in segregated Arkansas, Rev. Blakely enlisted in the Army, also segregated, in 1939. He survived the attack on Pearl Harbor when a Japanese torpedo missed his ship by 200 yards, and went on to serve in the battles of Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima, the Marshal Islands and Guam. We in the New York City Council are proud to honor Rev. Blakely at City Hall and wish him a happy celebration of 100 years.”

“It is truly an honor to celebrate a veteran of great distinction and now centenarian Reverend James E. Blakely. I proudly join my colleagues in recognizing his extraordinary legacy of service with the United States Navy, particularly during the deadly attack on Pearl Harbor and World War II. Thank you for your courage, strength, and heroic acts! I wish you the happiest of birthdays and many years of good health,” said Council Member Farah N. Louis.  

Council Member Robert E. Cornegy, Jr., said, “It is an honor to join with colleagues to lift up the service of Reverend James E. Blakely and acknowledge his considerable contributions to our country and to our communities. I salute Reverend Blakely’s distinguished service to our nation at Pearl Harbor and through World War II, and I am proud to be able to wish him a happy hundredth birthday. Let our recognition today serve as a small token of our appreciation for Reverend Blakely’s many achievements.” 

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