BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — On Dec. 7, 1941, over 2,300 servicemen and civilians were killed in a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, while 1,200 more were injured.

Julius Ellsberry, the first African American and Alabamian to die in World War II, grew up in Birmingham.

The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute said Ellsberry would be recognized for his service with distinction as he helped pave the way toward ending segregation.

One of over 400 men, Ellsberry went down on the U.S.S. Oklahoma on the day lives in infamy.

Ellsberry grew up and went to school at modern day A.H. Parker High School. Birmingham Civil Rights Institute Historian Barry McNealy said he graduated at 16-years-old, but waited to enlist in the Navy when he was 18.

During a period of segregation in the country, Ellsbery helped to assist white officers on the ship.

McNealy said, for African Americans in the war, it was about victory over Adolph Hitler and a victory toward ending segregation.

“They had to prove themselves so that the United States of America could hasten the day where they would no longer be treated in fashions that were less than everybody else in this country,” McNealy said. “His sacrifice was just one brick in the wall that was being built to say that as Americans we’re all the same and we all need to work together to come together to defend our country.”

A bust at Kelly Ingram Park honors Ellsbery, as well as his own park and a bomber built in his honor.