NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — We’re proud to honor a man known as a patient priest, a persistent politician and, head of a household. But what many may not know is that this citizen servant also served in the armed forces during World War II.
As part of our Hidden History series during Black History Month, WAVY spent time with one of the few remaining African American veterans of what’s been called “the war to end all wars,” said Father Joseph Green of Norfolk.
“I come from “The Great Generation,” and, we were the group of people who saved America.”
Father Green pastored Grace Episcopal Church in Norfolk from 1963 to 1993. And from that foundation he launched a career in politics, serving a term on the Norfolk School Board, then, 20 years on Norfolk City Council. His years of public service happened during dramatic and tumultuous changes in the city’s racial landscape.
That legacy of service, however, apparently began on a family farm at the start of World War II.
“Every young child in the country, on farms, had a project to help the war effort. Mine was to raise pigs.”
But Father Green says a dean at South Carolina State College had a different plan for that livestock.
“He said, ‘Bring me some of those pigs and I’ll pay you for them!’ (laughing) And that’s how I got into college!”
College life didn’t last long. Uncle Sam called the 16-year-old Green in 1943. And, as a Navy hospital corpsman at Great Lakes, Illinois, he cared for black and white troops.
“Back in that day, we were separate and unequal … I spend most of my career at Great Lakes on night duty. When the white sailors seemed like they had a lot of daytime … we hated it … fought against it.”
Green spent about 18 months in the service, here in the states, before he was discharged after the war’s end.
It was time to head back to college, but not SC State. He decided to attend St. Augustine’s in Raleigh.
“I was very active in the church before I left and we didn’t have a priest … I decided to got to seminary to see if I could fullfill that.”
Green was named pastor at Grace Episcopal Church in 1963. And, from the pulpit to the streets, Father Green often chose a spot on the front lines of civil rights battles here in Hampton Roads.
After progress with integration, Green began to focus on higher education and how to make it more affordable and accessible to people not wanting to go to a four year school. While on Norfolk Council, he led efforts to locate a campus of Tidewater Commnity College in downtown Norfolk. And for that, school leaders named the TCC administration building after him.
Looking back over nine decades, Father Green says: “I’ve had a great life and I have a great wife … I’m 92 and we’ve been married for 63 years … God has blessed me.”
And, thank you for blessing us, Father Joseph Green.