Good Genes Genealogy Services

#22 Laying down the law to get records straight about Black ancestral police officers

I often call us history detectives. That is, as researchers of often neglected or distorted history recounts, we must be vigilant to get the stories corrected about our ancestors whose career choices may seem odd to some individuals.

For instance, our cousin, Ronald Bartee, retired from law enforcement after several years of stellar service including being the head of the Nebraska Parole Board. Even thirty years ago, “Ronnie” was among a few senior Black administrators in law enforcement. Today, some 3,000 men and women in nearly 60 U.S. chapters around the country, comprise NOBLE –– National Association of Black Law Enforcement Executives. Thousands more are rank-and-file Black law enforcement officers.

Yet, often Black citizens in the U.S. and abroad are characterized as the least likely to become ‘Black and Blue.’ A troubling assertion in a recently published article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, shores up the ‘Black v. Blue’ beliefs. There is a statement, without attribution, that implies Black Colleges and Universities and/or Black people are not interested in law enforcement careers:

“… their decisions might raise eyebrows: The Black students attending a historically Black college had trained to become cop.” (from RACE ON CAMPUS A Historically Black College Wants to Change the Face of Policing By Katherine Mangan
Lincoln University in Missouri is the first HBCU to house a police academy,” June 29, 2021).

Historical records describe different results as 1837 marked the year that the first known Black officer joined a police force. Pictured below are the first black officers sworn in during an Atlanta, GA ceremony in 1948.

First black police officer was John Kent in 1837 who was hired and assigned to northwest England. His image is below.

First black police officers in Washington, D.C. made their debut during the past century and on June 28, 1911, Samuel Jesse Battle became the first black police officer in New York City.

A Brief Overview of the History of African Americans in Law Enforcement***

·        1867: The African-American police officers are appointed to the police department in Selma, Alabama; they would be followed in 1868 by officers in Jackson, Florida, and in 1870 by officers in Houston and Galveston, Texas.

·         1870: New Orleans, Louisiana has 177 African-American officers, and three of five police board members were African American.

·         April 12, 1870: Officer William Johnson of Jacksonville, Florida becomes the first recognized African-American police officer killed in the line of duty.

·         1875: Bass Reeves is appointed as the first African-American Deputy U.S. Marshal.

·         1916: Georgia Ann Robinson becomes the first African-American woman police officer, serving in the Los Angeles Police Department.

·         1928: Dr. Louis Tompkins Wright is the first known African-American police surgeon.  He would later become president of the NAACP Board of Directors.

·         1941: William B. Lindsay becomes the first known African-American state trooper, hired by the Illinois State Police.

·         1966: Sheriff Lucius Amerson is one for the first elected African-American sheriffs, serving in Macon County, Alabama.

·         1972: The National Black Police Association is chartered.

·         1976: The National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executive (NOBLE) is founded.

·         1988: Willie L. Williams becomes one of the first African-American police commissioners. He serves in Philadelphia and would subsequently become the first African-American commissioner of the Los Angeles Police Department in 1992.   

***(provided by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Museum)