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Charles Bolden Jr., NASA’s first Black administrator, was nominated for the post in 2009 by President Barack Obama and confirmed by the Senate that same year. Bolden nearly saw his career take another course in the early ’60’s, but he used his connections and a bit of humility to aid his quest to enter the U.S. Naval Academy.

Born August 19, 1946 in Columbia, South Carolina, Bolden was a football player at C.A. Johnson High School. Bolden was determined to enter the Academy. When he found out that a vice president can nominate anyone to the Academy while the president can only nominate the children of military personnel, he wrote a letter to then V.P. Lyndon B. Johnson to request his nomination.

Bolden saw his dreams dashed in November of 1963 when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. With Johnson elevated to president, Bolden moved to request that his state representatives nominate him for the Academy. But the elected officials in South Carolina, including notoriously racist Sen. Strom Thurmond, didn’t endorse Bolden due to his race.

Bolden then contacted Johnson and reminded the sitting president of their earlier correspondence. Eventually, Bolden was nominated by Rep. William Dawson of Chicago and he entered the Academy in 1964. After earning his degree in Electrical Science in 1968, he became an aviator with the U.S. Marine Corps and flew over 100 missions.

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