From NKAA, Notable Kentucky African Americans Database (main entry)

Rudder, John Earl, Jr. [John Rudder and Doris Rudder v United States of America]

(born: 1924) 

John Earl Rudder, Jr., born in Paducah, KY to John Sr. and Beatrice Copeland Rudder, was the first African American to receive a regular commission in the U.S. Marine Corps. He was a graduate of the Naval Reserve Officers' Training Corps. He had enlisted in 1943 and served with the 51st Defense Battalion.

Rudder was discharged in 1946 and enrolled at Purdue University, where he was awarded an NROTC midshipman contract. He received his commission in 1948, was appointed a 2nd Lieutenant, then sent to Marine Corps Basic School in Quantico, VA. Rudder resigned his commission in 1949; the resignation was handled quietly by the press and the Marine Corps. His commission had come at a time when the Marine Corps was being challenged about its segregation policies.

Rudder, his wife Doris, and their children settled in Washington, D.C., in 1952 living in a two-bedroom apartment in the Lincoln Heights Dwellings. John became a cab driver but had a hard time keeping a job and eventually was expelled from Howard University Law School.

In 1953, the Rudders were one of more than a million tenants of the federal housing projects required to sign the Certificate of Non-membership in Subversive Organizations. Families who refused to sign the certificate and refused to leave the premises were served with an eviction notice and a suit for possession. The Rudders filed suit against the action. The lower courts decided in favor of the National Capital Housing Authority [which managed property owned by the United States]. The Rudders filed an appeal; in 1955 the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington affirmed a judgment for the Rudders, and the eviction notice was withdrawn.

By 1967, the FBI had accumulated eight volumes of surveillance materials on the Rudders. John was labeled a Communist. The Rudders had participated in anti-discrimination and anti-war rallies, marches, and picket lines in front of downtown D.C. stores and restaurants. Rudder said that he had refused the FBI's offer to become a government informant.

John Rudder was a Quaker and his wife Doris was white and Jewish; they had five children. Their sons Eugene and Karl grew up to become activists. In 1977, their daughter Miriam was denied clearance by the FBI for a research aide position with the congressional committee investigating the assassinations of the Kennedys and Martin Luther King, Jr. The clearance was denied because of her parents' protest activities. In 1978, their daughter Beatrice became the first female firefighter in Washington, D.C.

John and Doris were also teachers and actors. John had appeared in the plays "Black Like Me" and "The Great White Hope." In 1981, two weeks before John and Doris were to appear in the play "Getting Out," they appeared on the television show 60 Minutes with their daughter Miriam to discuss what they saw as government harassment, including Miriam's employment denial.

For more see African Americans and ROTC, by C. Johnson; "The Postwar Marine Corps," chapter 10 of Integration of the Armed Forces 1940-1965, by M. J. MacGregor, Jr. [available online at Project Gutenberg]; John Rudder and Doris Rudder, Appellants v. United States of America, Appellee, No. 12313, 226 F.2d 51, 96 U.S.App.D.C. 329 [online at; T. Morgan, "Family of 'Subversives' pays a high price," Washington Post, 4/06/1981, First section, p. A1; J. Lardner, "John and Doris Rudder," Washington Post, 3/15/1981, Style, Show, Limelight section, p. K3; and J. Stevens, "First woman dons uniform of District Fire Department," Washington Post, 4/06/1978, District Weekly D section, p. C5. See also the 60 Minutes transcript vol. XIII, no. 24, as broadcast over the CBS Television Network, Sunday, March 1, 1981 with Morley Safer, John Rudder, Doris Rudder, Miriam Rudder, and U.S. Representative Louis Stokes (1925-1996) - titled " 'Sins" of the Fathers...," pp. 6-11, at the Harold Weisberg Archive Digital Collection at Hood College.

Kentucky County & Region

Read about McCracken County, Kentucky in Wikipedia.

Kentucky Place (Town or City)

Read about Paducah, Kentucky in Wikipedia.


Cited in this Entry

NKAA Source: African Americans and ROTC: military, naval, and aeroscience programs at historically Black colleges, 1916-1973
NKAA Source: The Washington post (newspaper)

Cite This NKAA Entry:

“Rudder, John Earl, Jr.[John Rudder and Doris Rudder v United States of America],” Notable Kentucky African Americans Database, accessed April 15, 2021,

Last modified: 2020-12-02 18:29:51