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Congressman Clyburn called on to help get Abraham Bolden pardoned

South Carolina Congressman Jim Clyburn is being called on to help get pardoned, the nation’s first Black Secret Service agent, decades after he was convicted after he accused the agency of misconduct during President John F. Kennedy’s administration.

After five U.S. presidents have failed to respond to his requests Roosevelt Wilson, chair of the Abraham Bolden Project, is turning to Clyburn, the powerful Black Congressman, hoping he can persuade President Joe Biden to finally right a wrong that happened more than 50 years ago.

Wilson recently wrote a letter to Clyburn, urging him to assist in getting Abraham Bolden pardoned, as the nation’s first Black Secret Service agent’s health declines with old age.

Last month, Bolden celebrated his 87th birthday but there are concerns that he won’t live to see his name cleared. He has spent more than 57 years trying to get pardoned.

In his letter Wilson says “Abraham Bolden was a brilliant, honorable, no-nonsense African American Secret Service Agent, with an impeccable record in law enforcement.

“He started as the first African American Pinkerton Security Guard; then was appointed a Secret Service Agent by President Dwight D. Eisenhower (R) in 1959, where he received two commendations for solving the largest counterfeiting ring in Chicago, IL. Two years later, President John F. Kennedy (D) assigned him to the White House detail, making him the first African American Secret Service Agent to serve in that capacity.

“There are many Americans who may have heard of Abraham Bolden, but never took the time to know the man. Ordinary people and particularly lawmakers assume that if you were convicted of a federal offense and sentenced to federal prison, you must have done something wrong. WRONG!…”

In 1961 Bolden, who still lives in Chicago’s Auburn Gresham community, was given a temporary assignment to guard President Kennedy during an event with Mayor Richard J. Daley at McCormick Place. On April 28, 1961, President Kennedy invited Bolden to join his White House detail as the first Black to protect the president.

During a hearing with the Warren Commission investigating the assassination of President Kennedy, Bolden testified that the president’s agents drank heavily before and after tours of his summer home in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts. He also said some reported to work half-drunk and used Secret Service cars to take women to bars.

Bolden said he reported the incidents, but nothing happened.

In addition, Bolden alleged that fellow agents subjected him to racist acts when he began working for the Secret Service.

The most explosive allegation was agents suppressed information that detailed a Chicago plot to assassinate President Kennedy.

Bolden documented his experiences in his 2008 memoir, The Echo from Dealey Plaza: The true story of the first African American on the White House Secret Service. The book’s title is a reference to the site in Dallas where President Kennedy was assassinated in 1963.

Federal authorities have denied the accusations and said there was no truth to misconduct in the Secret Service. They also denied the allegations of a cover up to assassinate President Kennedy.

On May 12, 1964, Bolden was accused and charged with attempting to sell a secret government file to Joseph Spagnoli Jr. in exchange for $50,000. Spagnoli was named as the head of a counterfeiting ring. The file was never located, and the case involved Bolden’s word versus the Secret Service.

Bolden believes he was framed and silenced as a Black man who spoke out against alleged misconduct in the Secret Service.

In July, 1964, Bolden’s first trial ended in a hung jury after the only Black juror refused to find him guilty.

During that federal trial, Judge Joseph Sam Perry stated to the jury during deliberation that in his opinion, the evidence sustained a verdict of guilty on all counts of the indictment.

Judge Perry also presided over another trial where he dismissed all charges against the Chicago police officers who killed Black Panther members Mark Clark and Fred Hampton dead during a 1969 raid on an apartment on the West Side.

During Bolden’s second trial, he was found guilty of accepting a bribe and sentenced to six years in prison. He was fired from the Secret Service that same month.

Jim Clyburn
Rep. Jim Clyburn

Bolden eventually served over three years in prison and was paroled before serving two and a half years of probation. Today, Bolden is a free man, but the conviction remains on his record.

As the House Majority Whip in the U.S. House of Representatives, Clyburn is the most powerful Black Congressman.

He is credited with saving Biden’s 2019 failing presidential campaign when he endorsed the Democrat during the South Carolina Primary. The endorsement led thousands of Black voters to support Biden at the polls. Blacks in primaries in other states also voted for Biden and his opponents eventually dropped out of the race.

Since then, Clyburn has been one of President Biden’s closest and most trusted advisors and has influenced the president’s policies on issues affecting Black Americans.

Clyburn recently advised President Biden to nominate South Carolina federal Judge J. Michelle Childs to the U.S. Supreme Court after Justice Stephen Breyer announced his retirement last month.

Wilson hopes Clyburn will use his influence to persuade President Biden to pardon Bolden.

“Abraham Bolden was framed, denied due process, imprisoned, held in solitary confinement, in the psychiatric ward against his will and without the mandatory court order regarding inmate medical treatment, and forced to ingest psychotropic drugs for a crime he did not commit, simply because the crime never occurred.

“Bolden was imprisoned to keep him from talking to the media about what he knew about two assassination attempts on President John Kennedy.

“Those details were purposely omitted from the Warren report to prove the theory that Lee Harvey Oswald was the lone assassin. However, there were several witnesses that heard shots fired from the grassy knoll and saw a male with a rifle leaving the area, but those witnesses were never interviewed.”

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