Wesley Brown, Naval Academy Pioneer Wesley Brown graduated from the Naval Academy in 1949 — the first African American to do so. Others had tried, but were forced out by racism and even violence. Brown and author Robert J. Schneller, Jr., tell John Ydstie about efforts to integrate the Academy.
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Wesley Brown, Naval Academy Pioneer

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Wesley Brown, Naval Academy Pioneer

Wesley Brown, Naval Academy Pioneer

Wesley Brown, Naval Academy Pioneer

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In 1949, Wesley Brown... shown here in an Army uniform... became the first African American to graduate from the U.S. Naval Academy. He originally wanted to go to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. Courtesy of Brown family hide caption

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Courtesy of Brown family

In 1949, Wesley Brown... shown here in an Army uniform... became the first African American to graduate from the U.S. Naval Academy. He originally wanted to go to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

Courtesy of Brown family

Program cover for Brown's commencement ceremony shows it took more than a century for the first black to graduate from Annapolis. hide caption

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Hundreds of hats sail into the upper reaches of the hall at an Academy graduation, a scene Brown vividly recalls. U.S. Naval Academy hide caption

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U.S. Naval Academy

Hundreds of hats sail into the upper reaches of the hall at an Academy graduation, a scene Brown vividly recalls.

U.S. Naval Academy

Wesley Brown graduated from the Naval Academy in 1949. He was the first African American to do so.

Five others had tried: three during Reconstruction and two during the 1930s, but all were forced out by intense racism and even violence.

Brown, who began his military career with a stint in the Army before applying to the Naval Academy, also suffered great discrimination. A group of upper classman conspired against him, giving him undeserved demerits that nearly led to his dismissal.

But others came to his defense, inside and outside of the academy, allowing him to succeed. He retired as a lieutenant commander after 20 years of Navy service.

His story, and the story of the integration of the Academy are the subject of a new book, Breaking the Color Barrier, by historian Robert J. Schneller, Jr.

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