Janie L. Mines became the first African American woman to graduate from the United States Naval Academy. She was also the only black woman at Annapolis in her first year as chronicled in her 2019 autobiography, “No Coincidences”.
“God has a plan for us all; if we submit to His will, we need not fear. We are prepared and protected,” Mines stated as she recalled how she confronted issues of race and gender.
Mines was born in Aiken, South Carolina, in 1958 as one of two daughters of Reverend W. L. Mines and Daisy Sheppard Mines. She grew up at a time when segregation persisted as a common
She also grew up immersed in her faith since her father was a Christian minister. Her faith, she said, became the source of her strength. She told South Carolina Public Radio that while the world tried to isolate her, she developed a friendship with the Holy Trinity and always had good company.
“I talk about my invisible friends, God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit,” she said. “We played Cowboys & Indians when I was four. There was no way to isolate me.”
While in high school, she joined the Navy’s JROTC program as the first black female and was a member of the National Honor Society. Mines graduated as Class Salutatorian (second highest grade point average) and fortunately for her in 1975, the year before her graduation, Congress passed legislation allowing women to attend military academies.
Mines was one of the first women to enter the United States Naval Academy as a midshipman in the summer of 1976. Students at the Naval Academy are called midshipmen (even when they’re women). At the time, only 80 women were selected to attend the Naval Academy and Mines was the only African American woman in her class.
“The Academy called me and said ‘You’re gonna be the only one, are you coming?’” Mines recalls: “I said ‘Yeah, I’m coming.’ They said, ‘Well we’ll be waiting for you.’ I said, ‘Oh, Lord, here we go again.’”
Knowing fully well what it meant to be a black at the time of racial riots and especially the only black woman in a class, Mines was unperturbed at the subtle and obvious efforts to distract her so she’d not be able to study.
“It was challenging and lonely at times. I had to deal with difficult situations. It made me a better person, and I am hoping I helped make the Naval Academy a better place,” she later revealed.
“They called me the double insult because I was both black and a female,” Mines said recounting her experience. “I didn’t expect the level of determination. I never hated the Naval Academy or the other students. I understood what they were doing and why they were doing it.”
“They come together as a unit to fix something that they think is just fundamentally wrong and not good for the mission of the Navy or the country,” she said. “That’s what they saw me as.”
Mines soon became a midshipman drill instructor, squad leader, and joined the fencing team at Annapolis. In 1977, her sister Gwen was also accepted to the Naval Academy. “Imagine what she would have endured if I left the first year,” she said.
Mines graduated with the class of 1980 as the first African American woman to graduate from the Academy while her sister Gwen also graduated the following year.
Mines served the Navy in different capacities. She also became one of the first women to be assigned to shipboard billets (jobs). Reportedly, she sailed aboard USS Emory S. Land and was assigned to the Navy Annex at the Pentagon.
She served as the Senior Advisor for Business Processes for the Secretary of the Navy. She was a warehouse manager, logistics manager (training and safety for an 18-wheel truck fleet), finance manager, procurement manager, and an internal consultant responsible for implementing large-scale change.
Ms Mines reportedly served as a Senior Vice President of Strategic Sourcing, in which she led a team of professionals in negotiating and managing agreements for real estate services, personnel services, consulting, utilities, and financial services, responsible for over $2 billion dollars of procurement funds.
After leaving the Navy, Mines was selected to be an Olympic Torchbearer for her commitment to serving her local community in 2002. She is currently an independent executive management consultant serving nonprofits, government and Fortune 500 corporations. She also serves on the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services.
Ms Mines is a published author. She has won numerous awards and continues to positively impact the lives of midshipmen and naval officers through her mentorship and ongoing support.
Regarding her feat, she said: “I think that I’m somebody who’s just trying to do the best they can in life as it relates to my fellow man and the things that God has for me to do. If that means I’m the first or the millionth to do it, I don’t think about it one way or the other.”