South Sider who was first Black Secret Service agent on a White House detail honored

Abraham Bolden broke the color barrier at the Secret Service and later blew the whistle on lax security and racism. He faced retaliation in the form of federal charges and prison time. President Joe Biden pardoned him in April.

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Abraham Bolden holds a proclamation celebrating his presidential pardon and honoring his work as the nation’s first Black Secret Service Agent to work on a presidential detail.

Abraham Bolden holds a proclamation celebrating his presidential pardon and honoring his work as the nation’s first Black Secret Service Agent to work on a presidential detail.

Mitch Dudek/Sun-Times

Six weeks ago, Abraham Bolden hung up the phone and drank a glass of water at his Auburn Gresham home as he absorbed the news he’d waited decades to hear.

He’d received a presidential pardon.

President Joe Biden issued it nearly 60 years after Bolden, the nation’s first Black Secret Service agent to serve on a White House detail, was convicted on trumped-up bribery charges in retaliation for blowing the whistle on the racist and unprofessional behavior of fellow agents.

“It just felt as if a ton had been lifted off my shoulders,” Bolden, 87, said after a ceremony Thursday in the Loop where he was honored by Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and County Commissioner Stanley Moore.

“It was indeed a trial and tribulation to suffer for a crime I knew I didn’t commit,” he said.

He faced charges in 1964 for allegedly accepting bribes from counterfeiters.

His first trial resulted in a hung jury. He was convicted in a retrial that relied on witnesses who later admitted lying at the prosecutor’s request.

Bolden, who served on the protection detail of former President John. F. Kennedy, spent more than three years in federal prison.

“This presidential pardon was a long time coming but finally what we have known has been so true and proven, that you, sir, are worthy of trust and confidence,” Moore said Thursday.

“I was delighted even though it took a little while,” Bolden said of the pardon. “I’m just glad that I lived to see it. I appreciate what President Biden did, and I also appreciate the support I had from the citizens in the United States of America.”

Bolden worked in manufacturing for 35 years in Chicago before retiring in 2001.

“He never gave up the fight to clear his name,” Preckwinkle said. “The Secret Service was hostile to President Kennedy because of his support for civil rights and, by proxy, was resentful of Agent Bolden, who integrated the Service.”

Bolden had sought a pardon from three previous presidents — Richard Nixon, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.

Bolden published a memoir in 2008 recounting his ordeal called “The Echo from Dealey Plaza.”

“America took a bad turn when President Kennedy was assassinated,” Bolden said Thursday. “America lost its conscience, and we’re still trying to find and define what we mean by democracy.”

Abraham Bolden at his Auburn Gresham home in April 2022.

Abraham Bolden at his Auburn Gresham home in April.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times file

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