In the fall of 1872, a black man from South Carolina named James Henry Conyers was appointed to and accepted by the United States Naval Academy. He arrived in Annapolis with strict orders from the Ulysses S. Grant White House that he be treated with "the utmost consideration", but these orders were ignored, and Mr. Conyers suffered severe treatment and indignation at the hands of his fellow Midshipmen during his one year there. Conyers was one of only three dozen blacks appointed to the Academy through World War II. Only six were actually admitted - Conyers and two others during the 1870s, two more in the 1930s and one in 1945. The first five were unmercifully hazed, assaulted, and driven out before their first year was over.
Wesley Brown '49
In 1949, Midshipman Wesley Brown achieved what before had been impossible and became the Academy's first African American graduate. Brown, a District resident who retired from the Navy as a lieutenant commander, joined the likes of William F. Halsey Jr. and Chester W. Nimitz, Alfred Thayer Mahan and Hyman G. Rickover with a rare honor: having a Naval Academy building named after him. The $52 million, 140,000-square-foot Wesley Brown Field House is one of the more impressive structures on the Yard and plays a major role in the life of the Midshipmen.
RADM Larry Chambers ‘52
In the fall of 1970, the chief of naval personnel ordered the superintendent to increase minority enrollment at the Academy to achieve Admiral Zumwalt’s goal of proportional representation. Admiral Calvert investigated and implemented organizational and procedural changes to increase African American enrollment. At that very time, new officer had just arrived in Annapolis to spearhead the minority recruiting effort.
ADM J. Paul Reason ‘65
In 1965, ADM J. Paul Reason entered USNA, He was from Washington DC, tried to join Naval ROTC and was not selected even though he scored second out of 300 applicants. He attended Howard University for a year when Congressman Charles Diggs, Jr, encouraged him to apply to USNA. He attended, graduated and then went to Nuclear Power School. Adm Reason served on various ships, achieved a MS in Computer Science and Commanded a Nuclear cruiser. He also was selected as the Naval Aide to the President of the United States, Jimmy Carter. Adm Reason was the first African American to achieve four stars and served as Commander in Chief, US Atlantic Fleet in his final tour. He was selected as Distinguished graduate in 2010.
MGEN Charles Bolden ‘68
The 50’s and 60’s saw the Academy rolls continue to expand with more African Americans attending but still a trickle comparatively speaking. This time saw two distinguished African Americans from that era which were Read Admiral Lawrence C. Chambers, ’52 USN (Ret), and Major General Charles F. Bolden, ’68 USMC (Ret). RADM Chambers was the first African American to command a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier and the first African American graduate of the Naval Academy to reach flag rank. MGEN Bolden became a Marine Aviator and test pilot. After his service as an astronaut, he became Deputy Commandant of Midshipmen at the Naval Academy. On May 23, 2009, President Barack Obama announced the nomination of Bolden as NASA Administrator. He was the first African American to head the agency on a permanent basis. In 2018 MGEN Bolden and RADM Chambers were selected as Distinguished Graduates of the US Naval Academy.
In the fall of 1970, the Chief of Naval Personnel ordered the superintendent to increase minority enrollment at the Academy to achieve Admiral Zumwalt’s goal of proportional representation (Z-Gram 66). Admiral Calvert investigated and implemented organizational and procedural changes to increase African American enrollment. At that very time, two new officers had just arrived in Annapolis to spearhead the minority recruiting effort. Their efforts would impact the Naval Services for decades.
Capt. Kenneth Johnson/Capt George Gaines.
Lieutenant Commander Kenneth Johnson and LT George Gaines had been assigned to the Recruitment and Candidate Guidance Office as the Academy’s first Minority Affairs Officers in August 1970. Between 1971 and 1975, an average of seventy-nine blacks entered the Academy each summer and accounted for 5.6 percent of incoming plebes. Similarly, between 1976 and 1998, Annapolis admitted an average of seventy-four African Americans per year, accounting for 5.5 percent of each incoming class. Through Johnson’s and Gaines efforts and other officers, the National Officers Association (NNOA) was founded as well in Annapolis, MD. This became a National Organization to support and develop Minority Officers
Byron Marchant ’78
Byron Marchant ’78 from Chicago, graduated as a Political Science Major, served in the Nuclear power Submarine program prior to transferring to the Naval Intelligence program. While serving in the Reserves, he earned his Juris Doctor at the University Law School. Mr. Marchant made history when he was chosen to serve as the President/CEO of the USNA Alumni Association & Foundation. Prior to this position, he served as the Executive Vice President, General Counsel and Chief Administrative Officer for the Black Entertainment Television. He has made the Foundation one of the most successful programs in the Nation.
Janie Mines '80
Janie Mines broke new ground in 1976 when she entered as a member of the first female class. Graduating with the Class of 1980, she served in the Supply Corps, at the Pentagon and on a Surface ship. After the Navy she earned an MBA from MIT.
The United States Naval Academy has the distinction of producing the first African American Male ADM J. Paul Reason and Female Admiral (4-Star) Michelle Howard. They were followed by the second ADM Cecil Haney.
The Naval Academy Today...
Today, nearly 23 percent of the Academy's students belong to minority groups. Almost 1,600 African Americans have graduated since Wesley Brown took that first step in 1949, including a host of Military, Government, Corporate and other industries. This included others such as Hall of Fame basketball player Lt. David Robinson, professional football player Lt. Napoleon McCallum and talk show host Cdr. Montel Williams.
Keenan Reynolds ’16, played football for USNA where he finished his career with an NCAA Division I record 88 career touchdowns and an NCAA FBS record 4,559 rushing yards by a quarterback and 5th in voting for the Heisman Trophy. He was drafted and played in the NFL for the Baltimore Ravens.