Today’s U.S. Armed Forces features a wealth of racial diversity. Much of that is owed to the efforts of 1st Sergeant Percy Ricks Jr. of Augusta, Ga. Sergeant Ricks was the first Black non-commissioned officer to lead a racially integrated unit in 1946.
Ricks was born in the town of Adrian, Ga. in 1920. In 1941, Ricks attempted to join the Army during the early stages of World War II but was turned away after being told the forces had enough Black soldiers. That all changed in 1942 after the bombing of Pearl Harbor and Ricks was drafted.
Stationed at Fort Monmouth in New Jersey, Ricks rose swiftly in the ranks and was promoted to 1st Sergeant while leading an all-Black unit in Africa at just 22 years of age. At 26, just his fifth year in service, Ricks was promoted to lead a racially integrated unit at the Signal Corps Photographic Center (SCPC), Astoria Studios, Long Island City, New York. The unit oversaw the handling of military training films.
The feat was especially noteworthy as it happened two years before President Harry S. Truman issued an executive order that racially integrated the military.
Ricks retired from the Army in 1962 but just before his death, The Army honored his legacy. In 2002, the Arts and Motion Picture Room of the Signal Corps Museum at Georgia’s Fort Gordon was renamed the “First Sergeant Percy Ricks Room.”
Ricks was also inducted as an honorary member of the Signal Corps regiment. Among his awards, Ricks received the Army Commendation Medal, the United National Service Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, and the Korean Service Medal along with others.