Skip to main content

Wesley A. Brown (1927-2012) died May 22 this year.  He was the first African-American to graduate from Annapolis Naval Academy.  Five previous African-Americans had been enrolled at the academy, but they had been unable to endure the vile hazing and prejudice that was meted out to them by the almost entirely white institution.

398px-Wesley_Brown_Field_House_groundbreaking
      Wesley A. Brown  breaking ground at the Naval Academy
      for the Wesley A. Brown Field House, 25 Mar 2006.
      Academy commandant Capt. Bruce E. Grooms is on left.
Brown graduated from the Naval Academy in 1949, having been nominated to attend by the flamboyant Harlem Congressman Adam Clayton Powell, Jr..  Brown served for 20 years in the Navy's Civil Engineer Corps, retiring in 1969 with the rank of Lieutenant Commander.  A native of the District of Columbia, Brown later joined the faculty of Howard University and assisted DC Congressional Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton with the selection of her nominees to the service academies.  

Back in 1945, when Brown entered Annapolis, the Navy was an extremely segregated service.  It was not until 1944 that the first African-Americans were commissioned as naval officers, these were called the Golden Thirteen.  

While there was a ship or two that had a predominantly African-American crew, under white officers, the enlisted ranks of approximately 100,000 African-Americans were generally allocated to menial (but not necessarily easy or safe) tasks such as stevedoring, as were, in command positions, the Golden Thirteen who were not allowed to command ships.  

On board ships the enlisted African-Americans were limited to work as mess attendants,  and they were known as "mess boys" as one sees dramatized in The Caine Mutiny.  And stevedoring was not necessarily safe work -- as shown by the 1944 Port Chicago disaster where the majority of the 320 men killed were African-Americans loading munitions.

At the very top of the Navy was Ernest J. King, a competent but not well-liked officer who was also a racist, whether more or less than others of his station isn't quite clear.  But the navy's relegation of blacks to menial roles certainly suited him well.  (Source: this thesis).

It's the steady dedication of people like Wesley A. Brown, the Golden Thirteen, and many others like them who fortunately changed our Navy so that now, while it's not perfect, it's a least a much more fair place for all people to advance in the service of our country.

EMAIL TO A FRIEND X
Your Email has been sent.
You must add at least one tag to this diary before publishing it.

Add keywords that describe this diary. Separate multiple keywords with commas.
Tagging tips - Search For Tags - Browse For Tags

?

More Tagging tips:

A tag is a way to search for this diary. If someone is searching for "Barack Obama," is this a diary they'd be trying to find?

Use a person's full name, without any title. Senator Obama may become President Obama, and Michelle Obama might run for office.

If your diary covers an election or elected official, use election tags, which are generally the state abbreviation followed by the office. CA-01 is the first district House seat. CA-Sen covers both senate races. NY-GOV covers the New York governor's race.

Tags do not compound: that is, "education reform" is a completely different tag from "education". A tag like "reform" alone is probably not meaningful.

Consider if one or more of these tags fits your diary: Civil Rights, Community, Congress, Culture, Economy, Education, Elections, Energy, Environment, Health Care, International, Labor, Law, Media, Meta, National Security, Science, Transportation, or White House. If your diary is specific to a state, consider adding the state (California, Texas, etc). Keep in mind, though, that there are many wonderful and important diaries that don't fit in any of these tags. Don't worry if yours doesn't.

You can add a private note to this diary when hotlisting it:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from your hotlist?
Are you sure you want to remove your recommendation? You can only recommend a diary once, so you will not be able to re-recommend it afterwards.
Rescue this diary, and add a note:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from Rescue?
Choose where to republish this diary. The diary will be added to the queue for that group. Publish it from the queue to make it appear.

You must be a member of a group to use this feature.

Add a quick update to your diary without changing the diary itself:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary?
(The diary will be removed from the site and returned to your drafts for further editing.)
(The diary will be removed.)
Are you sure you want to save these changes to the published diary?

Comment Preferences

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site