Breaking the Color Barrier: The U.S. Naval Academy’s First Black Midshipmen and the Struggle for Racial Equality, recently published by NYU Press, examines the black community’s efforts to integrate the Naval Academy, as well as the experiences that black midshipmen encountered at Annapolis.
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Only five black men were admitted to the United States Naval Academy between Reconstruction and the beginning of World War II. None graduated, and all were deeply scarred by intense racial discrimination, ranging from brutal hazing incidents to the institutionalized racist policies of the Academy itself.
Breaking the Color Barrier: The U.S. Naval Academy’s First Black Midshipmen and the Struggle for Racial Equality (352 pages/15 photos/$34, cloth), recently published by New York University Press, examines the black community’s efforts to integrate the Naval Academy, as well as the experiences that black midshipmen encountered at Annapolis. Author Robert J. Schneller, Jr., an official historian in the Contemporary History Branch of the U.S. Navy’s Naval Historical Center, analyzes how the Academy responded to demands for integration from black and white civilians, civil rights activists, and politicians, as well as what life at the Academy was like for black midshipmen and the encounters they had with their white classmates.
The first black man to graduate, in 1949, Midshipman Wesley Brown achieved what seemed to be the impossible. Armed with intelligence, social grace, athleticism, self-discipline, and an immutable pluck, as well as critical support from friends, family, and Congressman Adam Clayton Powell, Brown was able to confront and ultimately shatter the Academy’s tradition of systematic racial discrimination.
Schneller is an award-winning biographer and historian and has published several books, including Shield and Sword: The United States Navy and the Persian Gulf and A Quest for Glory: A Biography of Rear Admiral John A. Dahlgren.