Abraham Bolden (born January 19, 1935) is an American former United States Secret Service agent - the first African-American Secret Service agent assigned to the Presidential Protective Division, appointed by John F. Kennedy in 1961. Bolden was fired from the Secret Service after he was charged in 1964 with accepting a bribe in relation to a counterfeiting case he was involved with. He was ultimately sentenced to six years in prison, despite one of the counterfeiters admitting at his own trial that he had perjured himself at Bolden's at the request of the prosecutor. The charges came shortly after Bolden attempted to inform the Warren Commission of Secret Service failings relating to the Assassination of John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963, including a failure to adequately follow up a prior assassination attempt earlier that month. Bolden, who worked in the automotive industry after his release, testified to the Select Committee on Assassinations of the US House of Representatives in 1978 and published his memoirs in 2008.
Background and personal life
Bolden's wife, Barbara, died in 2005.
Bolden began his professional career at Pinkerton Government Services, working there for a year, before becoming an Illinois state trooper. His record here was such that after four years he was appointed to the Secret Service in 1959. Working on counterfeiting cases, Bolden won two commendations for cracking counterfeiting rings.
In 1961, he became the first African American member of the Secret Service's Presidential Protective Division after being appointed by President John F. Kennedy. According to Bolden, this happened after he met Kennedy on April 28, 1961 while working an event at the McCormick Place in Chicago, and that Kennedy there personally invited him to join the White House detail as the first African-American assigned to protect the President. Bolden said that at one time Kennedy introduced him to others as "the Jackie Robinson of the Secret Service", a comment Bolden found so touching he almost broke into tears. However, the racism and heavy drinking Bolden experienced at the White House Secret Service were such that after Bolden's complaints he was transferred back to Chicago after about three months, to return to work on counterfeiting cases.
Following the Assassination of John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963, Bolden sought to inform the Warren Commission of two matters he thought relevant: the attempted assassination of John F. Kennedy in Chicago on November 2, and drunkenness by Secret Service agents. Bolden said that details of the Chicago plot, which had led to Kennedy's trip being cancelled, were not passed to the Dallas protective detail.
Bolden was arraigned in Chicago on May 20, 1964 on federal charges that he had solicited a bribe from a counterfeiting ring that he had helped break. He was accused of seeking $50,000 in exchange for a secret file on the investigation. The government's case rested primarily on the testimony of two men, Frank Jones and Joseph Spagnoli, both facing felony charges originating from the same Secret Service office that Bolden was employed and who were facing upcoming trials before the same Chicago court. The case against Jones was dismissed after the Bolden conviction. The copy of the secret government file on the Spagnoli counterfeiting operation that Bolden allegedly put up for sale was never recovered, last being seen in the Chicago offices of the Secret Service, disappearing before charges were brought against Bolden.
Bolden was not accused of receiving or was he ever found to be in possession of any illicit funds from the accused felons who testified against him. He maintained his innocence, asserting that he had been framed because he planned to expose dereliction among the agents assigned to guard Kennedy in front of the Commission. The Secret Service denied Bolden's claims. United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, Edward Hanrahan, was quoted in news reports from May 1964, as calling Bolden's assertion of "overall general laxity" of Secret Service agents assigned to the late President Kennedy, and Bolden's belief he was prosecuted for doing so, as "fantastic." Hanrahan implied Bolden should have brought the charges in 1961. Bolden claimed he did just that, to James J. Rowley, the head of the Secret Service, but without result. 
Bolden's first jury deadlocked 11-1 in favor of conviction, at which time presiding judge Joseph Sam Perry issued an Allen charge in which he expressed his belief that Bolden was guilty but that the jury was free to disregard his opinion. The jury remained deadlocked, and Perry declared a mistrial on July 11, 1964. In the retrial, Bolden was convicted 12-0, and Judge Perry sentenced him to six years in prison. Bolden appealed his conviction to the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, based in part on Perry's Allen charge in the first trial. Bolden claimed that the charge was evidence that Perry was not impartial and that his failure to recuse himself denied Bolden a fair trial. Further, in the second trial before Judge Perry on August 12, 1964, the prosecution's case featured testimony by indicted counterfeiter Joseph Spagnoli. In his own later trial for counterfeiting, held before the same Judge Perry, Spagnoli confessed that he had perjured himself when he testified against Bolden. Spagnoli said Prosecutor Richard Sikes had told him to lie. The Appeals Court upheld Bolden's conviction in a decision issued December 29, 1965.
Following his release from prison (he served over three years), Bolden worked as a quality control supervisor in the automotive industry until his retirement in 2001. He had been fired by the Service in August 1964.
In January 1978, Abraham Bolden gave testimony on his experiences as an agent with the Secret Service to investigators of the Select Committee on Assassinations of the US House of Representatives. The Final Report of that Committee, released in March 1979 included these conclusions: "The Secret Service possessed information that was not properly analyzed, investigated, or used by the Secret Service in connection with the president's trip to Dallas; in addition, Secret Service agents in the motorcade were inadequately prepared to protect the president from a sniper."
Bolden was interviewed for the 2006 television documentary Conspiracy Files: The JFK Assassination based on information in the book Ultimate Sacrifice by Lamar Waldron. The program asserted that mobster John Roselli was responsible for framing Bolden.
The Echo From Dealy Plaza
In his memoir, Bolden claimed to have overheard Secret Service agents say that they would not protect President Kennedy from an assassination:
[President Kennedy] alienated Southerners and conservatives around the country, most of whom were already suspicious of him. In this, the Secret Service reflected the more backward elements of America. Many of the agents with whom I worked were products of the South.... I heard some members of the White House detail say that if shots were fired at the president, they'd take no action to protect him. A few agents vowed that they would quit the Secret Service rather than give up their lives for Kennedy.
Portrayals in fiction
Abraham Bolden appears in the 2011 television miniseries The Kennedys, portrayed by Rothaford Gray. He is depicted joining the President's protective detail; later President Kennedy turns to him as a sounding board during the crisis surrounding the 1962 desegregation of the University of Mississippi.
- Bolden, Abraham (2008). The Echo From Dealey Plaza: The True Story of the First African American on the White House Secret Service Detail and His Quest for Justice After the Assassination of JFK. Random House Digital, Inc. ISBN 0-307-38201-X.
- "Suspended Agent Denies Charges". Toledo Blade (Associated Press). July 10, 1964. p. 8.
- "Secret Service Agent In Recitals For Defense Fund". Jet. June 25, 1964. p. 10.
- Lamar Waldron (2009), Ultimate Sacrifice, Basic Books
- AP, Toledo Blade, June 16, 1961, Secret Service Puts 1st Negro Agent on White House Job
- "US Agent Bolden Gets 6 Year Sentence". The Milwaukee Journal (UPI). August 12, 1964. p. 3.
- Kelly, Joyce (February 25, 2009). "First African-American Secret Service agent to speak in Franklin". The Milford Daily News (Milford, Massachusetts). Retrieved March 4, 2013.
- "Whites Were Slack on Guard of JFK, Says Secret Service Negro". Jet. June 4, 1964. pp. 6–7.
- Chuck Goudie, ABC News, November 22, 2007, 44 Years After JFK's Death, New Assassination Plot Revealed
- "Secret Service Agent Accused". Reading Eagle (Reading, California). UPI. May 20, 1964. p. 19. Retrieved March 4, 2013.
- "Mistrial Declared In Secret Service Agent's trial". Ocala (FL) Star Banner (Associated Press). July 12, 1964. p. 23.
- United States v. Bolden
- Associated Press, Lewiston Morning Tribune, May 21, 1964, Suspended Secret Service Agent Says He Was Framed
- "JFK and the Unspeakable", James W. Douglass, Orbis Books, 2008, p. 215, ISBN 978-1-57075-755-6
- Chicago Tribune, January 21, 1965, Admits Bolden Trial Perjury: Spagnoli Tells of Trying to Aid Self
- Turner Rice, Dawn (January 18, 2010). "Secret Service agent Abraham Bolden of Chicago served President John Kennedy as the first African-American on the White House security detail". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 2011-04-08.
- Chicago Tribune, August 14, 1964, BOLDEN FIRED FROM SECRET SERVICE STAFF
- National Archives of the United States.
- Smith, Liz (March 15, 2006). "JFK assassination gets another look". The Blade (Toledo, Ohio). p. D-3. Retrieved March 4, 2013.
- Possley, Maurice (March 29, 2008). "A Chicago man's story: "The Echo From Dealey Plaza"". Chicago Tribune (Chicago). Retrieved March 4, 2013.
- "Secret Service Agent Tells True-Life Tale of Intrigue". NPR. March 24, 2008. Retrieved March 7, 2013.
- The Echo from Dealey Plaza, (New York: Harmony Books, 2008), p. 19. ISBN 978-0-307-38201-6