President John F. Kennedy landed in Chicago on April 28, 1961, for a thank-you dinner at McCormick Place with Mayor Richard Daley. After Charles L. Gittens was hired in 1956, Abraham W Bolden Sr joined the US Secret Service, becoming their second Black agent.
Some agents gained the coveted positions inside the McCormick Place banquet room near the president during the 1961 dinner. Bolden’s mission, on the other hand, was to guard a basement restroom reserved exclusively for Kennedy. After using the restroom, Kennedy approached Bolden and the two exchanged a few words. Kennedy asked Bolden if a Black Secret Service member had ever been posted to the White House, according to his memoir “The Echo from Dealey Plaza.”
Bolden was working at the White House as the first Black Secret Service agent on a presidential detail the following month. He would have issues with that job.
Bolden was born on January 19, 1935, in East St. Louis, Illinois, and received a music scholarship to Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Missouri, where he graduated with honors in 1956. He married and went on to work for the Pinkerton National Detective Agency as the first African American detective. Bolden went on to become an Illinois State Highway Patrolman before entering the Secret Service in October 1960 and being appointed to President John F. Kennedy’s Secret Service detail in 1961, at the age of 26. Kennedy dubbed him “the Jackie Robinson of the Secret Service” at the time.
While at the White House, Bolden had to deal with racism. After making complaints about agents following women, coming to work unfit, missing shifts, and drinking on the job, his Secret Service agent assignment became a miserable experience as well. And it was his promise to publish information about the lack of sufficient security for Kennedy following his killing that got him sacked from the Secret Service in 1964.
Bolden was also charged with attempting to sell a government file for $50,000 in exchange for a bribe. He refuted the claims and stated he was being framed for attempting to reveal Secret Service misconduct. Despite some witnesses alleging they were urged to lie during the trial, Bolden was convicted and sentenced to six years in jail after his first trial ended in a hung jury. Bolden was sentenced to 39 months in federal prison in Springfield, followed by two years of probation.
He returned to Chicago and worked for a number of companies while attempting to clear his record. Roosevelt Wilson, an education expert, pled Bolden’s case to four presidents.
Wilson told the Chicago Sun-Times in 2021, “I kept waiting for someone in D.C. with the courage to clear this man, and it never occurred.” “I began with Bill Clinton, followed by George W. Bush, and finally Barack Obama.” I decided not to write Trump because I knew it would be ineffective. Then there’s Biden.”
Bolden, now 86, was the first person to get a presidential pardon from President Joe Biden on Tuesday. He was one of three people who Biden had pardoned.
The president stated, “America is a nation of laws and second chances, repentance, and rehabilitation.” “One of the most successful strategies to prevent recidivism [repeat offending] and crime is to assist those who have served their sentence in returning to their families and becoming contributing members of their communities.”
Bolden has already received a number of accolades, including the 2008 Scottish Hugo’s Companion Tankard Award for Courage and the 2008 African American Arts Alliance Award for Excellence.