LCDR (Ret) Wesley A. Brown, USNA ’49, died on Tuesday. LCDR Brown was notable for being the first African-American to graduate from the Naval Academy, where he endured not only the regular hazing all underclassmen were expected to deal with, but also the “special” treatment afforded him due to his race:
White cadets refused to sit next to Mr. Brown, racial epithets were whispered behind his back, and fellow plebes barred him from joining the choir…He told interviewers that not a day passed when he did not consider quitting.
Brown did garner support from some cadets, including a future President:
One cadet who visited his dorm room to talk and encouraged him to “hang in there,” Mr. Brown said, was Jimmy Carter, the future president, who was then an upperclassman and fellow member of the academy’s cross-country team.
In a speech last year at a Naval Academy event, Mr. Carter recalled Cadet Brown as part of “my first personal experience with total integration.”
“A few members of my senior class attempted to find ways to give him demerits so that he would be discharged,” Mr. Carter said, “but Brown’s good performance prevailed.”
Navy historian Robert J. Schneller Jr. expounded on why Brown was successful:
“He made it because he was a gentle guy, and a hard worker, who came from a community where they taught their children not to believe the bull white people gave them about the black man’s ‘limited abilities’ — who taught them that they could do what they wanted.”
RIP, LCDR Brown.