ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — Retired Lt. Cmdr. Wesley Brown, the first African-American to graduate from the U.S. Naval Academy, has died, the Academy said. He was 85.
Willetta West, Brown’s daughter, says he died Tuesday at his residence in Silver Spring of colon cancer.
A spokeswoman for the U.S. Naval Academy says Brown will be interred at the school. Deborah Goode said Thursday details on timing are still being arranged.
Brown, a 1949 graduate, was appointed to the Academy in 1945. He was the sixth black admitted but the first to earn a degree.
Brown “embodied the highest ideals of the Academy’s mission and dedicated himself to decades of selfless and distinguished service to our nation,” Vice Admiral Michael H. Miller, the Naval Academy’s superintendent, said in a statement.
At the Naval Academy, Brown ran varsity track and cross country, and was a cross-country teammate of former President Jimmy Carter. A 1995 interview on Brown by The Baltimore Sun noted a framed 1989 letter from his fellow track team member, who would stop by to talk to him and encouraged him to “hang in there.”
“I ran with you (you were better). Jimmy Carter,” the letter read.
Brown spent his four years at the academy without a roommate by choice, he recalled in a 2005 interview with The Capital. He said he didn’t want to feel responsible for unwilling or friendly white midshipmen.
He was featured in the book, “Breaking the Color Barrier: The U.S. Naval Academy’s First Black Midshipmen and the Struggle for Racial Equality” by Navy historian Robert J. Schneller Jr. The author said in a 2005 interview that upperclassmen would give Brown excessive demerits for allegedly not maintaining his uniform properly and some classmates would not sit next to him in the cafeteria.
He told The Baltimore Sun in a 2005 interview that he learned to not be frustrated when faced with a situation that couldn’t be changed.
“When I came to the academy, I learned that there were all kinds of prejudices — against Jews, Catholics, even the Irish — and I looked around and thought that these prejudices were instilled in them by their families and they could not be blamed for feeling the way they did,” he said.
Brown, a veteran of World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War, had a 20-year career with the Navy. He helped build houses in Hawaii, roads in Liberia, waterfront facilities in the Philippines, and a seawater conversion plant in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
He retired from civilian employment at Howard University in 1988.
In 2008, the Naval Academy constructed the Wesley Brown Field House to accommodate physical education classes as well as the academy’s athletic programs.
“I believe this is symbolic,” Brown told The Baltimore Sun that year. “Some of the Navy policies, procedures in the past,
have not been the kind that African-Americans were in favor of. And I think this indicates their dedication to diversity in general.”
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)