Commander Wesley Brown became the first black Naval Academy graduate on June 3, 1949. Brown, who served in WWII, the Korean War and the Vietnam War, was admitted to the Naval Academy with five other black candidates in 1945. The Howard University Graduate attended Annapolis alongside President Jimmy Carter, who was his friend and colleague on the cross-country track team.
Commander Brown’s training at the academy was full of discrimination. He was given many undeserved demerits. He was taunted with racial slurs and hazed by white cadets. They wanted to do everything in their power to have him thrown out of the academy. He would sit alone in the cafeteria. At one point, Rep. Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. wrote a letter on Brown’s behalf to express the efforts being taken to expel the cadet from Annapolis. The situation was said to be under investigation by Navy Secretary James Forrestal, who told Powell that Brown was fine and there were no discrimination issues.
Eventually, a few white upperclassmen in the academy looked after Brown to ensure that he made it to the finish line. Among them was future President Jimmy Carter. Carter kept his communication with Brown, even into his presidency.
Despite the conditions, Commander Brown was commissioned as a Navy officer and graduated 370th out of his class of 800. During his tenure, the Commander has helped design a water treatment facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, built roads across Liberia, and designed an air station in the Philippines and a nuclear plant in Antarctica.
After his retirement from service, Commander Brown worked as a construction project manager for the state of New York and a Facilities Manager for Howard University.
Commander Wesley Brown’s legacy is told in the book “Breaking the Color Barrier: The U.S. Naval Academy’s First Black Midshipmen and the Struggle for Racial Equality,” by Robert J. Schneller Jr.
Four years ago, the Naval Academy dedicated its $50 million indoor track facility in Commander Brown’s honor.
Commander Brown passed away in Silver Spring, MD, May 22, 2012 from cancer. He was 85 years old.