Jun 5

LCDR Wesley Brown, the First African American Graduate of the USNA

Tuesday, June 5, 2018 12:01 AM

By

Lieutenant Commander Wesley Brown, Civil Engineer Corps, U.S. Navy (Retired)

Future Lieutenant Commander Wesley Brown,
Civil Engineer Corps, U.S. Navy (Retired)

 

This oral history is particularly noteworthy, because it provides personal recollections from the first African-American graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy. Brown entered the Academy in 1945, a century after the institution was founded, and graduated in 1949. A handful of black midshipmen had previously been appointed to the school in Annapolis, but all were either pushed out or left of their own volition prior to graduation. Brown spent his youth in Washington, D.C., where he attended segregated Dunbar High and had part-time jobs working for the Navy and Howard University. He was able to succeed at the Naval Academy through a combination of his sunny disposition, academic ability, and perseverance. Following his commissioning in 1949 he had a temporary assignment at the Boston Naval Shipyard prior to undertaking postgraduate study in civil engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in 1950-51. His subsequent duties as an officer in the Civil Engineer Corps included postings to Bayonne, New Jersey; Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 5 (NMCB-5) in the Philippines and Port Hueneme, California; the headquarters of the Bureau of Yards and Docks in Washington; the Construction Battalion Center, Davisville, Rhode Island; the public works department at the Barbers Point Naval Air Station in Hawaii, temporary duty in Antarctica; a tour at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba; and final active duty service, 1965-69, at Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn. During his time in the Philippines in the 1950s he had a substantial role in the construction of a new aircraft carrier pier in Subic Bay. In the early 1960s, he had a leadership role as the Navy’s Seabees did construction projects in the Central African Republic, Liberia, and Chad. Following his retirement from active naval service in 1969, Lieutenant Commander Brown worked in several capacities for the State University of New York system and subsequently did facilities and construction work at Howard University in Washington. In May 2008, the Naval Academy dedicated a new athletic field house named in Brown’s honor. In his remarks at the dedication of the facility Brown said the naming of the new building symbolizes the Navy’s commitment to diversity.

 

Reunion of early African-American U.S. Navy Officers. Naval History and Heritage Command. Courtesy of the Naval History and Heritage Command.

Reunion of early African-American U.S. Navy Officers. Naval History and Heritage Command.

 

To read more about the Naval Institute Oral History Program, go to https://www.usni.org/heritage/oral-history-catalog.