Memorial unveiled in Charleston for first African American to enter US Naval Academy
CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - A ceremony honoring James Henry Conyers, the first African American to enter the U.S. Naval Academy was held in Charleston, with some of his descendants in attendance.
Conyers broke the color barrier in the U.S. Naval Academy just over 150 years ago. Up until now, he had been buried with his wife in an unmarked grave in the upper peninsula, but Monday, he was honored for being the trailblazer that he was.
Several high-ranking military leaders gathered at the Humane and Friendly Society Cemetery on Pershing Street, near Meeting Street, to honor Conyers, who died in 1935.
Conyers was sworn into the Naval Academy in 1872 at 16 years old after being nominated by Congressman Robert Elliott.
However, he would not finish the academy. He was hazed, abused, cursed at, spat on and manhandled by fellow midshipman up until he resigned from the academy in 1873.
Still, the officers said he was a leader who paved the way for Wesley Brown, the first African American to graduate from the academy in 1949, and others behind him.
“He single-handedly broke down barriers,” U.S. Naval Academy Superintendent Vice Adm. Sean Buck said. “Not immediately, not all at once, but in a country that had just survived the ravages of a Civil War, he began to lead the way by example.”
“We are a small family,” Conyers’ great granddaughter Carol Grant-Rogers said. “You enabled us to come together on this occasion from near and far, and we appreciate it, and we feel the love and support.”
The monument was made possible because of the Naval Academy’s alumni donating money to honor Conyers and the impact he had.
Copyright 2022 WCSC. All rights reserved.