Black History 365 – First African-American midshipman admitted to the United States Naval Academy

(No image available for John H. Conyers)

(No image available for John H. Conyers)

In 2016 for my Black History 365 series, I explore the obvious and not so obvious parts of American history that those called Black have taken part in. The things that we (Black people) have done other than be stolen from our homeland and made forced labor in a land foreign to us. I’m going to start this series by looking up the first time someone African-American did something and broke the color barrier in that activity or field. I’ll be starting with Wikipedia and working my way out:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_African-American_firsts

I will be learning a lot of this as I go since I am a product of the standardized Euro/Anglo/Caucasian leaning public school system. I hope you enjoy learning with me. I’ll be going down the list chronologically as it appears in the Wikipedia article.

If you have any other sources or additional information for this topic, please share in the comments. I also welcome any and all comments and discussion. Thanks for reading!

For today’s entry:

1872: First African-American midshipman admitted to the United States Naval Academy: John H. Conyers (nominated by Robert B. Elliott of South Carolina)

From Wikipedia:

James Henry Conyers (October 24, 1855 – November 29, 1935) of South Carolina was the first black person admitted to the United States Naval Academy on September 21, 1872.

In 1872, the fifteen year old James Conyers was nominated for admission to the Naval Academy by South Carolina congressman Robert B. Elliott. After successfully completing “competitive district examinations after [his nomination as a midshipman] and passing the final test examinations at Annapolis,”, Conyers received his appointment as a “cadet-midshipman” and was sworn in on September 24, 1872. Contemporary newspapers noted favorably on Conyers, describing him as having a “complexion of about brown coffee color, with the usual curly hair of his race, and stands five feet three inches tall.”

From the beginning, Conyers met with difficulty, being subjected to all manner of hazing by his fellow midshipmen. He was cursed at, spat upon and physically manhandled. Some of his classmates even attempted to drown him. In the fall of 1872, Conyers was marching when he was kicked and punched by several otherCadets, among them the Academy’s boxing champion George Goodfellow.

News of the incident and the constant hazing experienced by Conyers leaked to the newspapers, and a three-man board was convened to investigate the attacks. Goodfellow denied any wrongdoing and Conyers claimed he could not identify any of his attackers. The board nonetheless concluded that “His persecutors are left then without any excuse or palliation except the inadmissible one of prejudice.” To give Conyers a fair chance at succeeding on his own merits, they believed strong measures should be taken. In the end Goodfellow and two others were dismissed from the Academy. The abuse continued in more subtle forms however, and his grades suffered. After surviving another hazing incident where nine midshipmen (including Andrew Summers Rowan) were subsequently dismissed from the Naval Academy due to their involvement, Conyers finally resigned in October 1873

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Wikipedia References

  1. Harley, Sharon (1996). The timetables of African-American history: a chronology of the most important people and events in African-American history. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 9780684815787. Retrieved 27 May 2013.
  2. ^ Jump up to:a b Standard Certificate of Death, State of Carolina, Bureau of Vital Statistics, Registered no. 351291, File no. 16364 for James H. Conyers, dated November 29, 1935, Charleston, S.C. Ancestry.com. South Carolina, Death Records, 1821-1961 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2008.
  3. ^ Jump up to:a b c d e f Schneller, Robert John (2005). Breaking the color barrier: the U.S. Naval Academy’s first Black midshipmen and the struggle for racial equality. New York: New York University Press. ISBN 978-0-8147-4013-2. Retrieved 27 May 2013.
  4. [Henry E. Baker,] “Naming of Holley Was Not to Pay Campaign Promises; Putting Record straight; Former Cadet H. E. Baker, States That Three Colored Boys Entered The Academy And Four Others Were Nominated,” (New York) Age, April 8, 1922, 1
  5. Crane, Michael A. (2004). A fistful of thorns: Doc Holliday and Kate Elder 1880. Klamath Falls, OR: Boot Hill Press. p. 113. ISBN 978-0-9745914-0-7. Retrieved 27 May2013.
  6. Clare, Rod (July 2005). “Review of Schneller, Robert J., Jr., Breaking the Color Barrier: The U.S. Naval Academy’s First Black Midshipmen and the Struggle for Racial Equality”. H-War, H-Net Reviews. Retrieved 27 May 2013.
  7. “Ancestry.com. Charleston, South Carolina, Marriage Records, 1877-1887 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2007.
  8. 1900 Federal Census for the City and County of Charleston, South Carolina [Precinct 2, Charleston City, Charleston County Enumeration District 90, Sheet 10-A, Lines 44-51]
  9.  Luce, Stephen B. (1868) SEAMANSHIP: Compiled from Various Authorities, and Illustrated with Numerous Original and Select Designs, for the Use of the United States Naval Academy. NY: D. van Nostrand, Fourth Edition
  10. https://www.liveauctioneers.com/item/21802761_seamanship-signed-by-1st-black-midshipman
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