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Black Firsts, May 2008: Lt. Cmdr. Wesley A. Brown May 9, 2008

Posted by twilightandreason in Higher Education.
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“There’s no greater honor, obviously, for an alumni to have a building named for him, one that he hasn’t donated the money for.” — Ret. Lt. Cmdr. Wesley A. Brown in the Baltimore Sun

Ret. Lt. Cmdr. Wesley A. Brown

A number of institutions are celebrating this commencement season by naming Black scholars to leadership positions that African Americans have never previously held or by honoring their institution’s Black pioneers. Over the next few days, I will be posting news of some of these exciting milestones under the heading “Black Firsts, May 2008.”

The series continues with this brief report on the U.S. Naval Academy and its upcoming dedication of the new Wesley Brown Field House, named for its first African American graduate.

The dedication will take place this coming Saturday (May 10, 2008 ) and Ret. Lt. Commander Wesley A. Brown, the 81 year-old guest of honor, will be in attendance, along with a number of family members and friends. A member of the Academy’s class of 1949, Brown was the sixth African American to enter the Naval Academy, but only the first to graduate. Like previous Black enrollees, Brown endured isolation and harrassment but, he is not bitter. The Baltimore Sun reports that, “Brown has said in previous interviews that he did not recall many of the bad experiences at the academy and prefers to talk about the friends he had there.”

Midshipman Wesley A. Brown, ca. 1949

The Sun reports that Brown, “entered the Navy’s civil engineer corps after graduation. He retired from the Navy in 1969.” Brown feels fortunate to be alive to experience this dedication and to share it with his family. The Sun explains the health crisis that nearly prevented him from reaching this moment:

Brown said he was taken aback several years agowhen someone from the academy called to say officials planned to name an athletic complex after him. Brown said he initially thought the caller was a prankster or a telemarketer.

Two months later, he suffered a heart attack at his home, and doctors told his wife that he would likely die before morning. Their four children flew in from other parts of the country to be at his side.

Brown said he is simply thankful to be alive for Saturday’s ceremony.

He has spent recent weeks finalizing the guest list, which has grown to 70 family members and more than 300 friends.

The Wesley Brown Field House is a state-of-the-art athletic facility. HomeTownAnnapolis.com describes the $52 million, 140,000 square foot sports complex:

The facility includes track and field areas, such as sand pits for broad jumps, that can be covered by a retractable artificial turf football field.

When being put in place or retracted, the 76,000-square-foot, 100,000-pound carpet floats on a bed of forced air created by fans hidden in the floor. The goal is to reduce friction and make the turf last longer, said retired Cmdr. Tom McKavitt, an associate athletic director at the academy.

Cmdr. McKavitt said the facility will house the men and women’s cross country and track teams, the women’s lacrosse team and the sprint football team, as well as supporting 16 club sports.

“The facility will contribute to the overall physical mission at the Naval Academy,” he said.

Cmdr. McKavitt said the building’s wall overlooking the Santee Basin is designed to serve as dike in case of severe flooding.

The wall is mostly blast-resistant glass and is designed to reduce the need for artificial lighting. It is tinted toward the top to make the building easier to cool, according to Lt. Bob Kendall, the project supervisor.

The building has its own storm water management system that includes channeling run-off into flower beds, he said.

Posted by Ajuan Mance


Your Black History Horoscope: Were You Born in 1966? April 28, 2008

Posted by twilightandreason in Higher Education.
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I was. Lyndon Johnson was in office, the number one song of the year was The Monkees’ “I’m a Believer,” and A Man for all Seasons won the Oscar for Best Picture; but on college campuses another kind of history was being made.

Black History Horoscope* for people born in 1966:

Historical Happennings in 1966 (from TwilightandReason.com):

  • Dr. Samuel P. Massie becomes the first African American professor at the U.S. Naval Academy (Chemistry).
  • On June 3rd of this year, Maxwell Scarlett becomes the first African American student to graduate from the University of Texas at Arlington (B.S. in Biology).
  • Merle J. Smith becomes the first African American cadet to graduate from the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London, CT.
  • The Black Panther Party is founded in Oakland, CA by Bobby Seale and Huey P. Newton. The two met at a rally opposing the blockade against Cuba while Seale was a student at Merritt College and Newton was enrolled at Oakland City Law School.

Horoscope Summary

The year of your birth (and mine) is characterized by its the pioneering spirit, creative political thinking, leadership, and sheer courage of those African American students and teachers who were creating change in their community, on their campuses, and in the nation at large. You can make the social and political changes that you desire to see in your world, but you must to bring the creativity and courage of Bobby Seale and Huey Newton. They used their innovative vision of African Americans turning to meet the violent racial terrorism of the 1960s with an attitude of entitlement to bear arms for self-defense to rock the nation and to truly transform the way that African Americans were perceived, both by Black folks and non-Blacks alike.

By the same token, you must also look beyond those places where African Americans are most commonly found if you are to make truly broad and lasting social change. Consider Merle J. Smith and Maxwell Scarlett who sought to pursue their educational dreams and goals in places where Black folks had previously been unwelcome. Also remember Dr. Samuel P. Massie who not only sought to enter a profession (academia) that to this remains relatively inaccessible to Black people, and in a discipline in which African Americans continue to be quite rare, but who also pursued his career at an institution in which Black people had never previously served as full-time, permanent faculty members.

The fact that you were born during that year already makes 1966 a special time for you. Pioneers and innovators like Newton and Massie have paved the way for you to make the occasional of your birth a fortunate occurance for us all.


 In 1966 Merle J. Smith became the first African American to graduate from the U.S. Coast Guard Academy. Today he is General Counsel at a maritime security firm.

*Your Black History Horoscope is not based on the month and the day that you were born, but on the year. The Black History Horoscope looks at the year in which you were born, and — based on the Black history being made during that time — assigns a set of qualities and values that distinguish the year of your birth.
Black History Horoscopes seeks not to predict the future, but to issue a challenge, to live up to and exceed the characteristics of the Black historical innovaters and change makers of the year of your birth, and to perpetuate the values manifest in their actions and impact.

Posted by Ajuan Mance