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First White House Black Secret Service agent still trying to clear his name

For Abraham Bolden, now 86, time is running out on years-long efforts to obtain a presidential pardon.

Secret Service Agent Abraham Bolden, then 29, in 1964 as he prepared to appear before a judge after being suspended and charged with trying to sell prosecution documents to a counterfeiting defendant.
Secret Service Agent Abraham Bolden, then 29, in 1964 as he prepared to appear before a judge after being suspended and charged with trying to sell prosecution documents to a counterfeiting defendant.
Sun-Times file

Abraham Bolden is running out of time to clear his name.

Bolden is the first Black Secret Service agent to serve on a presidential detail.

It was April 28, 1961, and President John F. Kennedy was in Chicago for a thank-you dinner with Mayor Richard J. Daley at McCormick Place.

“While some agents got the coveted spots inside the McCormick Place banquet room near the president, my assignment was to guard a basement restroom that had been set aside for Kennedy’s exclusive use,” Bolden wrote in his memoir, “The Echo from Dealey Plaza,” published in 2008.

When Kennedy left the restroom, he stopped in front of Bolden and asked had there ever been a Black Secret Service agent at the White House.

A month later, Bolden was in Washington, D.C., reporting for duty at the White House.

But an assignment that should have brought Bolden great honor ended up causing him greater harm.

In his memoir, Bolden describes overt racist acts that began upon his arrival. His assignment became a nightmare after he complained about agents drinking on the job, chasing women and showing up unfit for duty.

But he became a real problem for the Secret Service when he threatened to reveal the agency’s shortcomings in guarding the president. After doing that, he was charged with bribery in a case involving a counterfeiting defendant, tried twice, convicted and sentenced to six years in prison.

While Bolden’s life story might sound like a conspiracy theory to some, Black Americans will identify with the brand of injustice that buries its victims under false accusations and legal documents.

Abraham Bolden at his South Side home in 2016.
Abraham Bolden at his South Side home in 2016.
Mary Mitchell / Sun-Times

When I interviewed Bolden at his South Side home nearly five years ago, I expected to meet a bitter man. But he wasn’t. He was still proud of his service to the White House and confident justice finally would prevail.

Roosevelt Wilson, an education consultant in downstate Alton, has pleaded Bolden’s case to four presidents. Wilson hasn’t given up. But he knows time is against him.

“I kept waiting for someone in D.C. with some guts to clear this man, and it never happened,” Wilson says. “I started with Bill Clinton, then George W. Bush and Barack Obama. I didn’t write Trump because I knew it wouldn’t do any good. Then Biden.”

U.S. Rep. Danny Davis, D-Illinois, agreed to work with Wilson to bring the president’s attention to this pardon request, but there’s been little movement.

“It is going to take some time, and I’m trying to get other people involved,” Davis says.

U.S. Rep. Danny Davis.
U.S. Rep. Danny Davis.
Rich Hein / Sun-Times file

He says he reached out to U.S. Rep. Joyce Beatty, D-Ohio, who chairs the Congressional Black Caucus to join this effort.

“A lot of them are squeamish about criminal records,” Davis says. “I am going to try anyway even if I don’t get the caucus.

“We will have to prepare and get a letter to the pardon attorney in the Justice Department. They review it and make a recommendation to the president, and the president either accepts or rejects it. Or he doesn’t have to do anything.”

Wilson already has jumped those hurdles again and again, and every restart is a delay that Bolden, now 86, can’t afford.

Wilson believes Bolden’s quest for a pardon has been untouchable because the government has never wanted to deal with questions about JFK’s assassination.

“The Echo from Dealey Plaza” by Abraham Bolden. Crown

Bolden also has said he has knowledge of two prior assassination threats.

“I don’t know if the government was ready for the facts to come out,” Wilson says. “In the meantime, we have an innocent man who has lost his life because the government failed to tell the truth about the whole issue.”

Bolden managed to make something of his life despite being falsely accused. But his legacy is his name.

I am hopeful the Congressional Black Caucus can help him reclaim its honor.