John “Bern” Bernard Brewer was born March 13, 1889/1890 in Norfolk, Virginia to Georgette (or Georgia) Lewis and David L. Brewer. David Brewer was a house painter and Georgette was a seamstress. The Brewers lived on Lexington Street in the Old Huntersville neighborhood of Norfolk and were active members of the community. John Brewer attended Norfolk Mission College for a few years and then transferred to Howard Academy (1907-1910). After matriculating from Howard Academy, he enrolled Howard University’s Dental College in 1912. At some point between 1913 and 1917, he transferred to Northwestern University. He worked at the Boston Dental Parlors in Chicago, Illinois as a dental laboratory technician before enlisting in the United States Army on March 19, 1917. He served as a private in the Medical Department of the 8th Illinois Infantry of the 33rd Division of the National Guard. He was promoted to sergeant in November 1917.
While in the service, he was stationed at Camp Logan, Texas from October 1917 to March 1918 and then Camp Stuart, Virginia for one month before shipping out to France. He rose in the ranks quickly while in training camp, and was promoted to Private First Class and then Sergeant in the fall of 1917. He served in France for eight months, and saw action at the battle of St. Mihiel Maison and at Argonne Forest. St. Mihiel was the first major American offensive in World War I, and Brewer and his fellow soldiers fought under General Pershing and liberated the town from German control. He was cited for bravery at the Ailette River on September 27, 1918 for continuing to fight while wounded. He returned to the United States in February 1919 and was discharged at Camp Grant, Illinois as a Sergeant First Class in the Detached Medical Department of the 370th Infantry.
After being discharged from service, he returned to Northwestern and finished his degree in accountancy. While a student at Northwestern, he was a member of the Theta Chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi. According to the 1930 Census, he owned his own accounting firm in Chicago and lived in a large boarding house. In September 1930, he was in a serious automobile accident which prompted his mother to travel to Chicago to care for him. His health problems continued, and by 1940, he was a patient at the Main Hospital of the National Home for Disabled Soldiers in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He transferred to the soldier’s hospital in Hampton, Virginia to be closer to his mother and aunt, who still lived in Norfolk.
John Bernard Brewer died on April 13, 1943 at age fifty-three and he is buried in West Point Cemetery, Norfolk, Virginia.
Annual Announcement and Catalog of the Medical Department of Howard University, 1912-1913. Washington, DC, 1913.
“Bernard Brewer Dies at Hospital,” New [Norfolk] Journal and Guide, April 17, 1943.
Catalogue of the Officers and Students of Howard University, Washington, DC., 1909-1910.
“John Bernard Brewer,” Find a Grave.com. Available Online: http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=73560902. Accessed October 18, 2016.
“Personal Mention,” New [Norfolk] Journal and Guide, September 27, 1930.
“Today in History-September 12” Library of Congress. Available Online: https://www.loc.gov/item/today-in-history/september-12. Accessed October 19, 2016.
United States Census, 1900-1940.
Stephanie J. Richmond is an assistant professor of history at Norfolk State University.