Memorial service for 1st black Naval Academy grad

June 6, 2012 - 4:55 PM
Academy Black Graduate

Wesley Brown, Jr., holds a class ring that belonged to his father, Lt. Cmdr. Wesley Brown, the first African-American to graduate from the United States Naval Academy, after a memorial service in Annapolis, Md., Wednesday, June 6, 2012. Brown, whose family donated the ring to the Academy, was a veteran of World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War before retiring from the Navy in 1969. Brown died last month of cancer. He was 85. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — A memorial service for the first black graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy drew about 200 people to the academy's chapel after the interment of his ashes in a columbarium on school grounds.

Retired Lt. Cmdr. Wesley Brown, who died last month at 85, was memorialized Wednesday as a man who blazed a courageous path to graduate in 1949. He was commissioned in the Navy Civil Engineer Corps.

Those gathered recalled a man who endured poor treatment by classmates with resilience and grace, decades before the civil rights movement. He lived alone at the academy so he wouldn't have to burden roommates with residing with the school's only black student.

Retired astronaut Maj. Gen. Charles Bolden, NASA's first black administrator, said Brown paved the way for him and many others.