June 3, 1949: Wesley Anthony Brown (1927 – 2012) became the first African American graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, in Annapolis, Maryland. He served in the U.S. Navy from May 2, 1944, until June 30, 1969, which included stints during the Korean War and Vietnam War.
Brown was born April 3, 1927, in Baltimore, Maryland. He graduated from Dunbar High School in Baltimore, Maryland, where he was Cadet Corps Battalion Commander during his senior year. He became the first in his family to attend college, at Howard University.
A retired naval officer, Lt. Cmdr. Brown was the sixth African American to attend, and the first to graduate from the U.S. Naval Academy. He was nominated for admission and later appointed to the USNA by New York Congressman Adam Clayton Powell, Jr.
Brown entered the academy on June 30, 1945 and graduated on June 3, 1949. He was an accomplished athlete, running cross-country with Jimmy Carter, the 39th president of the U.S., who was also a Naval Academy graduate.
The experiences of the first five African Americans admitted to the academy, including the challenges Brown and the others faced, are documented in the book, “Breaking the Color Barrier: The US Naval Academy’s First Black Midshipmen and the Struggle for Racial Equality,” written by Navy historian Robert J. Schneller, Jr.
Brown retired at the rank of Lieutenant Commander in June 1969 after serving 20 years in the Navy’s Civil Engineer Corps. During this time, Brown was responsible for building military service member homes in Hawaii, roads in Liberia, wharves in the Philippines, a nuclear power plant in Antarctica, and a desalination plant in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
When he retired, Brown consulted on construction projects and joined the faculty at Howard University as a physical facilities analyst. He served as chairman of DC’s Congressional Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton’s Service Academy Selection Board.
Awards and Honors:
Brown served in the Republic of the Philippines, Korea, Vietnam, Guantanamo Bay, and Cuba.
Brown received the American Theater Ribbon and World War II Victory Medal. He was recognized with the 2009 National Society of Black Engineers Golden Torch Legacy Award-First Honoree.
The Wesley Brown Field House at the U.S. Naval Academy is named in his honor. Brown wielded a shovel in the groundbreaking on March 25, 2006; the building was completed in March 2008 and dedicated on May 10, 2008. Brown also participated in the ribbon-cutting ceremony with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen, Naval Academy Superintendent Vice Adm. Jeffrey L. Fowler, and Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley.
Brown was a member of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity.
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