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Mitchell: Pioneering Secret Service agent asks Obama for justice

Abraham Bolden at his home. Mary Mitchell / Sun-Times

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Abraham Bolden Sr. lives quietly in the same West Englewood house he has lived in for nearly half a century.

It is where his three children were raised and where, after 49 years of marriage, his beloved wife, Barbara, passed away.

Passersby wouldn’t have a clue that Bolden has a special place in the nation’s history.

Bolden was the first African-American U.S. Secret Service agent assigned to a White House detail. The historic opportunity came at the height of the civil rights movement, when John F. Kennedy was elected to the White House.

The honor became a curse, though, after Bolden complained about other agents’ behavior.

After he threatened to make his complaints public, Bolden found himself charged with bribery in a counterfeiting case. He was convicted and sentenced to six years in jail.

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“The Echo From Dealey Plaza,” a memoir written by Bolden in 2008, traces his journey.

“I realized I was walking into a historical situation — not only black history, but United States history,” Bolden said in an interview at his home. “But it didn’t turn out like I thought it would because I found surrounding the president were diehard racists.

“There were a few on the detail who were from the Southern part of the United States, and they hated [Kennedy’s] guts,” he said.

Bolden recalled the day in 1961 when he met Kennedy.

“When the president came to Chicago, they took my assignment, which would have been near the podium where he was speaking, and stationed me in front of a washroom in McCormick Place,” Bolden said.

“But the first thing [Kennedy] wanted to do was use the washroom — and there I stood.”

The memory of the encounter makes Bolden beam.

“The president stopped right in front of me, and he asked me if I was a Secret Service agent or one of Mayor Daley’s finest,” Bolden recalled.

“Mr. Bolden, has there ever been any African-American Secret Service agents assigned to the White House in DC?” Bolden said the president asked.

“I said not to my knowledge. And the president, he point-blank looked me in the eye, and he said, ‘Would you like to be the first?’ ”

But it wasn’t long after Bolden arrived in Washington, D.C., that he started having concerns.

“There were a few agents who were very much against the president,” Bolden told me. “They wanted him to fail, much like we have people who wanted Obama to fail.

“They hated him. They didn’t want him in office.

“When we went to Hyannis Port, I noticed the security issues. I heard conversations by agents who said they would not do their job if an assassin would try to assassinate President Kennedy. I heard these conversations with my own ears.”

Suspended Secret Service Agent Abraham Bolden, then 29, before a court appearance after being charged with trying to sell prosecution documents to a counterfeiting defendant for $50,000. AP file photo
Suspended Secret Service Agent Abraham Bolden, then 29, before a court appearance after being charged with trying to sell prosecution documents to a counterfeiting defendant for $50,000. AP file photo

He complained about agents coming to work after staying up all night drinking and about them bringing prostitutes into the living quarters.

When Bolden threatened to publicly disclose his peers’ behavior, he was arrested on bribery charges. After the jury deadlocked, resulting in a mistrial, he was convicted at a second trial — during which a key witness would later admit he perjured himself — and sentenced to serve six years in prison.

“What I want is a pardon and expungement,” he said. “I want that conviction taken off of my record. That is what I want.”

His lawyers sent a pardon package to President Barack Obama and the U.S. pardon attorney in March, but, other than a form letter, Bolden hasn’t heard a word.

Presidents Bill Clinton and Richard Nixon denied Bolden’s petition.

Still, Bolden said he has no plan to confess or to show contrition for a crime he did not commit.

“I would rather die than say I did something that I didn’t do,” Bolden said. “I’m 81 years old now. I think that there is enough proof of my innocence out there. Eventually, whether or not the president acts — which I would like him to act — my name will be cleared.”

Hopefully, given all Obama now knows about the shortcomings of the U.S. Secret Service, he will take a fresh look at Bolden’s petition.

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