It’s been 150 years!
James Henry Conyers became the first African-American to enroll at the U.S. Naval Academy in 1872 after being nominated by Congressman Robert Elliott; at 16, he was sworn into the Naval Academy. Due to the high volume of racism, Conyers ended up resigning from the academy and returning home to Charleston. 14 years later, he’d prove to have paved the way for Wesley Brown, who became the first Black graduate of the Naval Academy in 1949.
On Monday, Conyers’ descendants, friends, and members of the alumni association gathered at the Humane and Friendly Society Cemetery for the unveiling of the marker located near him and his wife’s gravesite. At the bottom of the marker is his name and a description of the history he made.
“He is getting his due credit and his place in history is being recognized. The place in history is there, but it’s being recognized. It’s fabulous,” said Conyers’ great-granddaughter Carol A. Grant-Rogers.
CEO and president of the Naval Academy Alumni Association Jeff Webb stated, “Sadly, we can’t go back and change Mr. Conyers’ experience at the Naval Academy. But what we can do and what we must do and are proud to do is to share his story of courage and service.”
It’s never too late to acknowledge history and honor our trailblazers. Because of James Henry Conyers, more than 2,500 Black Americans followed his path with the opportunity to graduate.
U.S. Naval Academy Superintendent Vice Adm. Sean Buck stated during the ceremony, “He single-handedly broke down barriers. 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.”
Photo: Andrew J. Whitaker/Staff