group of students in row


By Carla Beecher & Adapted by Jared Fritz-McCarty

LeArthur "Lee" Dunlap was born with a kind heart, a keen intellect, active curiosity for the world, and devotion to country that took him from the first class of Black sailors trained at Great Lakes Naval Station during World War II to a 31-year government career in which he served alongside heads of state.

Heide and Oscar Groomes with their dog

Last August, soon after her father died at the age of 97, Heide Groomes and her husband Oscar (pictured left), as well as other family and friends, established the LeArthur Dunlap Scholarship for African American and Veteran Students. The annual scholarship recognizes Lee’s personal and professional accomplishments, and the first recipient was selected in spring 2021.

Heide describes the inaugural recipient, Carrie LeFlore, as "a remarkable young woman, who is extremely passionate and caring." Heide has become a mentor to Carrie helping her set goals and and serving as an advocate. Heide and Carrie meet regularly and discuss how Carrie can best navigate personal and professional decisions."The opportunity to connect with Carrie has been incredible. I plan to be in the audience when she walks across the stage to receive her degree. My father would be so proud of her."

Born to Mattie and Othur Dunlap in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, on March 28, 1923, LeArthur “Lee” Dunlap and his family came to Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood in 1936 as part of the Great Migration. As a teen, he joined DuSable High School’s ROTC program and became the company drill master.

When the United States entered World War II after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941, Lee was eager to join the fight — but had to wait.

The government initially excluded Black men from joining the service, but “once they allowed in the first group of 277 Black civilians, I signed up and reported for duty on July 17, 1942. The first Black naval officers, known as the Golden 13, came from our group.” Reflecting, he said, “Kennedy once said, ‘Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.’ We didn't know anything about the Navy, but we decided that when they let the first group in, we were going to be in that group. We didn’t come looking for anything in particular, we came wanting to do something.”

He scored a 98 on the math exam, but because there were no training schools set up for Black sailors at Great Lakes, they sent him to
Hampton University in Virginia, a Black technical college. “I became an electrician mate and was taught on salvaged electrical equipment from an old ship.” Lee was the first Black honor graduate of his class.

In early 1943, Lee shipped off to the Naval Air Station in Cape May, New Jersey. “Unfortunately, they had no facilities where colored sailors could sleep, so we slept on the cement floor of the hangar deck. We weren’t allowed to eat with the white sailors in the mess hall, so we had to use our own money to buy food in the PX. 

After about three days our money ran out, so, as petty officer, I staged a protest and asked to meet with the base officer. He arranged for us to have quarters and begin eating in the mess hall with the rest of the crew.”

His first assignment was off the New Jersey coast on a minesweeper. According to Lee, the Germans had two great weapons during World War II: the submarine and magnetic mines, which were scattered in the path of the ships. Minesweepers were degaussed, or demagnetized, so could glide over mines without blowing up.

In front of the convoy, the USS Egret cleared the path “just like a broom sweeping back and forth, destroying mines and keeping the fleet safe.” Lee trailed a 200- to 300-foot cable behind the ship that emitted a direct pulsating current. “We stopped and started the current over and over to send out a huge magnetic wave that exploded and then imploded the mines. Anyone entering our area of the ship would hear loud pops and see sparks flying as circuit breakers pulsed 250 and sometimes up to 2000 volts of direct current. Entering officers usually departed in a big hurry!”

When World War II ended in 1945, Lee was honorably discharged and returned home to Chicago. He enrolled at Roosevelt College on the G.I. Bill, studying political science. According to daughter Heide, he was extremely proud of his education.

“After graduating in January 1949, he planned to teach, but, because it was a time of intense racial discrimination, he couldn’t find a position. Instead, he played jazz guitar in Chicago nightclubs to pay his bills.”

Lee took the remainder of his G.I. Bill that February and set sail aboard the RMS Queen Elizabeth to study political science, economics, and French at the University of Paris–Sorbonne. He arrived in Paris with just $40 in his pocket, which didn’t last long. “But the American veterans looked after each other, so between their help and playing bass in a jazz band, I never cashed a single G.I. check,” he proudly recalled.

With an affinity for languages, he meshed well with Parisian society. “I am basically a sociologist, political scientist, and historian, and Paris, to me, was just the place to be during the 1950s. I became very good friends with Richard Wright, and through him I met Langston Hughes, Jean Paul Sartre, W.E.B. DuBois and Josephine Baker.”

After earning a diploma from the Sorbonne in 1950 at age 27, he began working for the State Department in Germany. While there, he met and married his first wife, Hildegard, and both daughters, Heide and Karin, were born.

As chief clerk for Secretary General Joseph E. Slater of the Allied High Commission from 1950 to 1953, Lee was charged with securing and storing top-secret documents. The commission, established by the United States, United Kingdom, and France to regulate and supervise the development of the newly established Federal Republic of [West] Germany, was located at the Hotel Petersberg, an estate near Bonn.

He recalled the time while helping plan a reception that Slater asked him, “‘Did you make out an invitation for yourself?’ I said, certainly not. He said, ‘Well, you’d better. You speak French, you speak German, you are my assistant; I need you there, so you better get your tuxedo cleaned because you will be there.’ In attendance were British Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden, Foreign Minister of France Robert Schuman, U.S. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, and Konrad Adenauer, the first chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany. “When the function was over, the valets began bringing up the cars. They brought Adenauer's car with its motorcade first, and the second car was mine! So, I actually went out before the prime minister and all these secretaries of state. I never lived that one down. They kidded me the next day, but things
like that happen.”

Later serving as an investigator and agent for the IRS, ATF, FBI and as FAA security ambassador to Africa, he retired in 1981 as petty officer third class. Back home in Chicago, he finally was able to pursue his first love — teaching. He worked as an instructor for City Colleges of Chicago for the next 21 years.

As Heide reflected on her father’s long, full life, she said, “I only wish I had honored him with this scholarship while he was alive. It was something I’ve wanted to do for a while, especially as he got older and no longer wanted gifts for his birthday or Christmas. I know he would be so proud and happy to see a scholarship in his name helping the next generation of promising Roosevelt students achieve their dreams.”

A group of women celebrating graduation form Roosevelt

Scholarship Initiative for Black Students  

The LeArthur Dunlap Scholarship for African American & Veteran Students is one of six scholarships included in the University's new Scholarship Initiative for Black Students. These funds all uniquely recognize Roosevelt's commitment to equity and attainment, and help to ensure the success of our Black student community. 

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