Just prior to the arrival on the scene of Conyers, an investigation of the hazing at the Academy had resulted in legislation by the Congress to control those activities. The investigation also established that racial discrimination was not a factor in the subsequent resignation or dismissal of Conyers and those black midshipmen who immediately followed. However, in his book, A Sailor’s Log , Admiral Evans described at least one incident of the hazing of Conyers. The Army and Navy Journal mentioned newspaper reports regarding the “treatment received by the young colored midshipman at the Naval Academy,” but didn’t accept those reports “without a grain of allowance.” The same editorial mentioned reports regarding the refusal of the other midshipmen to associate with Conyers except when necessary, and pointed out that the selection of friends by the students could not be controlled by the authorities.

The Army and Navy Journal later reported that an “investigation into the alleged ill treatment” of Conyers was in progress, that Conyers had apparently been assaulted by a Midshipman Diggs of Maryland and that Diggs had been dismissed. The same article pointed to the dismissal of several students the previous year for hazing, as evidence that Academy officials were determined to bring hazing under control. Two of those dismissed secured Congressional re-nominations which were subsequently revoked by the President. These articles considered the reports of the hazing of Conyers to be greatly exaggerated.

The New York Times reported that Conyers was totally ignored by his classmates who agreed to avoid personal contact with him even if it became necessary to disobey orders. On one occasion, Midshipman Claude refused an order by Lieutenant Cornwell to fence with Conyers during a fencing class. Claude was reported for disobedience of orders and was given the alternative of apologizing to Lieutenant Cornwall or of being dismissed from the service. Claude chose the second option and was separated.

Conyers was found academically deficient in June 1873, but was allowed to return in September for re-examinations. However, he again failed to pass and subsequently resigned. He had been offered an opportunity by a professor at the Academy to be coached, free of charge, during the summer for the re-examination but he declined.

Dr. Alonzo C. McClennan.

Dr. Alonzo C. McClennan.

Alonzo C. McClennan, also of South Carolina, was the second black to become a midshipman at Annapolis. Appointed by R. H. Cain, Congressman-at-Large, and also a black, he arrived in late September 1873, about six weeks before the discharge of Conyers. Navy Department records show that McClennan was first discharged on 16 March 1874, and that he later resigned on 4 November 1875. The reason for his discharge was shown as academic deficiency. The discrepancy in the date of his release was best explained by McClennan himself in a statement to The New York Times . He stated that he had been court-martialed for an alleged minor offense, had denied being guilty and that his denial made it a question of veracity between him and the cadet who had made the charge. As a result of the proceedings he was recommended for dismissal, but the Secretary of the Navy refused to accept the findings and ordered him re-enrolled. Later he was put in prison on board the USS Santee for striking another midshipman who attempted to force McClennan out of his seat at the dinner table. He remained a prisoner until he resigned. According to McClennan, Professors Foster and Snow induced him to resign by offering to send him to Massachusetts and ensuring that he receive an education. He states that he took advantage of their offer. The Times had earlier reported that McClennan was a successful practicing physician and owner of a drug store in Charleston so there appears no reason to discount the truth of McClennan’s statements.

Henry E. Baker, Jr.

Henry E. Baker, Jr., in a ca. 1905 portrait.

The third black midshipman, Henry E. Baker, Jr., was appointed by Representative H. W. Barry of Mississippi, who was not a black. Neither Baker nor McClennan were identified by the Naval Academy as “Negroes,” but are carried as such in the Bureau of Naval Personnel files. Baker entered the Academy on 24 September 1874, just one year behind McClennan. Originally with the Class of 1878, Baker was turned back to the Class of 1879 as a result of being academically deficient. Navy records show he was dismissed on 4 November 1875, for misconduct.

The New York Times reported that Baker endured hazing of much greater severity than that experienced by Conyers or McClennan. According to the Times , on one occasion an officer had to draw his sword in order to protect him, and on another occasion he was assaulted by all or most of a squad of midshipmen while marching in a section from one part of the Yard to another. The sword incident was not reported to the Academy, but was picked up by a reporter who printed it. Admiral Worden, the Superintendent, when informed of the incident, took some action against those responsible, but soon after, he approved the court-martial findings against Baker, who had “applied an opprobrious epithet” to a cadet who had hit Baker’s leg with a chair as he sat down to dinner. Again the Navy Secretary intervened, but Baker declined his offer for reinstatement, and resigned. He later studied law and was employed by the U. S. Patent Office in Washington, D.C.

Robert Wheeler of Chicago was appointed in the fall of 1896 by Representative George White of Illinois, and even though he had obtained a principal nomination, he failed to appear at Annapolis to take his entrance examinations and was disqualified.

Two black candidates, W. C. Bundy of Cincinnati, and John W. Smith of Chicago, were appointed to the class entering in September 1897. According to The New York Times , Congressman Shattuc of Ohio, who appointed Bundy, stated he had been urged to withdraw the name of Bundy, that several Congressmen had told him there was an unwritten law against appointing blacks to Annapolis and such an appointment would “break up the school and that other students would resign.” But Congressman Shattuc stated that the appointment had been fairly won by competitive examination and he would stand by the appointment. Bundy, one of 92 scheduled to take entrance examinations, arrived at Annapolis on 1 September 1897, and enrolled without incident. However, none of the other candidates spoke to Bundy. He did “exceptionally well” on his entrance examinations, failing only in spelling, arithmetic, and algebra, according to The New York Times , and Bundy was scheduled to appear for reexamination in spelling on 4 September but failed to do so, thereby losing his chance to enter unless reappointed.

Smith, also appointed by Congressman White of Illinois, a Caucasian, took his examination in May 1897. He failed in three out of four sections on the English examination and also failed in grammar, geography, and history. He was re-appointed to take the examinations in September, and Congressman White stated he would continue to reappoint Smith as long as he was in Congress. Smith, however, resolved the issue by failing to appear for re-examination and his alternate was appointed in his place.

There was little doubt that a considerable amount of controversy accompanied the matriculation of Conyers, McClennan, and Baker and a great deal more as the result of The New York Times articles. While the Army and Navy Journal discounted to some extent the accuracy of the newspaper reports of the day and so assurance that the authorities at Annapolis would protect the rights of the black midshipman, it tended to accept the white midshipman’s right to choose his own friends and to some extent overlook the injustices and prejudices which existed at the Academy by emphasizing the concerted attempt to bring hazing under control. While the Journal articles were considered editorial in nature, The New York Times articles tended to vacillate between valid reporting and editorializing and made it almost impossible to distinguish between fact and opinion.

Almost 40 years elapsed before another black was successfully appointed. James Lee Johnson, appointed by Representative A. W. Mitchell of Illinois, a black Democrat, entered on 16 June 1936, but was separated the following February for being academically deficient, physically unqualified, and for misconduct. The Times reported that Johnson’s conduct mark was lowered as a result of being late for formation seven times and that Johnson was among 135 midshipmen who were asked to resign because of deficiencies in their studies. Mitchell conferred with Academy officials and then went to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, stating that Johnson had been “railroaded” out of the Academy and that he had evidence of “skullduggery.” All 135 midshipmen were detained at the Academy pending the report of an investigation by the Academic Board. Mitchell was advised by the Academy that Johnson was deficient in deportment and had failed history and English. According to Secretary of the Navy, Claude A. Swanson, as stated in The New York Times, “nothing was found by the Board to warrant the retention of any of the 135 midshipmen. . . .” The case was considered closed. The Army and Navy Journal reported that the Navy Secretary was satisfied that Johnson had not been railroaded out of the Academy, that the findings of the Board reaffirmed its original findings and that President Roosevelt had been provided with a copy of the findings.

George J. Trivers was appointed the following year by Mitchell, but resigned after a stay of only three weeks. Mitchell, still unconvinced that Johnson had not been railroaded out of the Academy, announced that he would go to the Naval Academy to investigate. Referring to Johnson, Mitchell was quoted as saying “I want to get the facts in this case because another Negro I appointed was railroaded out. . . . They said that boy, James L. Johnson, Jr. was deficient as to eyesight, English, and deportment, all of which is a lie.” Two days later, Mitchell announced that Trivers had resigned because he “could not do a midshipman’s work” and “that there had been no unpleasantness surrounding Trivers’ resignation.”

By 1945, integration of the Navy had become a fact. The Navy had abolished all special regulations concerning the treatment of blacks in the forces afloat and ashore. The Bureau of Naval Personnel in 1944, issued a statement of general policy to the effect that it accepted no theories of racial differences in ability. Furthermore, every man would be treated in accordance with his individual capacity as determined by his performance.

The time was right for the appearance of Wesley A. Brown, appointed by Representative Adam Clayton Powell of New York. Brown had attended Howard University prior to entering the Academy on 30 June 1945. His first few months, however, were not without incident. In October 1945, Representative Powell complained to Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal, that his black nominee “was not receiving fair and equal treatment.” Powell had been informed that a “concerted effort is being made to bring about his dismissal, that his papers are being under-graded, and that he is not informed in advance concerning offenses for which demerits are to be given.”

Powell apparently became convinced that his source of information was largely in error, as no further mention of the situation appeared in the Times. If such a “concerted effort” was a fact, it failed, and Brown continued at the Academy and became the first Negro to graduate. He was commissioned in the Civil Engineer Corps of the Navy and retired from active duty in 1969, after 20 years of service.

The color line had been broken, but Brown’s graduation was not marked by a significant increase in Negro midshipmen during the next 15 years. No blacks were graduated again until the class of 1952, when Lawrence C. Chambers graduated with honors. Reeves R. Taylor was the only black graduate with the Class of 1953. Commencing with the Class of 1949, the first class with a black graduate, and including the class of 1969, 53 blacks have been appointed to the Academy and 36 have graduated, for a completion ratio of 67.9%. This compares reasonably with an average completion ratio of about 70% during the same period for Academy graduates as a whole. . . .