Naval Academy plans to name new field house for first black graduate

June 17, 2005|By Molly Knight and Andrea Siegel | Molly Knight and Andrea Siegel,SUN STAFF

A planned field house at the Naval Academy will be named for the college's first African-American graduate.

The U.S. House of Representatives approved last month a military appropriations bill that includes $24.9 million for the first phase of the construction. Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, a 3rd District Democrat, said he expects the remaining money for the $50 million project to be included in authorizations for fiscal year 2007.

The field house is to be named in honor of Wesley A. Brown, who became the academy's first black graduate in 1949.

Brown, 78, endured racism at the academy and in the Navy but rose to the rank of lieutenant commander.

The experiences of Brown and other early black midshipmen are the subject of a newly published book.

To this day, Brown said, he does not hold grudges against the midshipmen who discriminated against him.

"I guess I learned early on not to get frustrated and lose hope when you can't change a situation," Brown said by phone last week from his home in Washington. "When I came to the academy I learned that there were all kinds of prejudices - against Jews, Catholics, even the Irish - and I looked around and thought that these prejudices were instilled in them by their families, and they could not be blamed for feeling the way they did."

Stellar student

Academy officials said it is fitting that the field house be named for Brown, who was an academy track star and stellar student.

In 1992, when the Annapolis Chapter of the National Naval Officers Association formed an endowment to provide scholarships for students studying math, science, engineering or health care in Maryland schools, it named one of the scholarships for Brown.

Deborah Goode, a spokeswoman for the Naval Academy, said the 150,000-square-foot building probably will be built near the academy's sailing center, with construction starting next year and lasting two years.

First in 50 years

The building would be the first field house built on the academy's campus in more than 50 years and would replace several aging facilities.

The Wesley Brown Field House is to feature an indoor track, space for the school's 17 club sports and 30 intramural teams, and updated facilities for women's sports.

Asked about the construction of a building bearing his name, Brown said he is flattered.

"The news came as quite a shock," said Brown, who worked as a civil engineer for the Navy. "I don't think there's any greater honor for an alumnus."

Grandfather of seven

Brown, a father of four and grandfather of seven, said he also is proud to see how far the academy and the Navy have come in diversifying their ranks.

"In a broader sense, I hope this shows that the Navy has recognized - and is willing to demonstrate by action - that it's come a long way from the old color and racial barriers," he said. "I think we've made a lot of progress, and I'm very pleased by it."

Academy officials said they could not provide additional details about the construction until the budget is approved by Congress and the president.

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