African Americans in the Baltimore Police Department
From our Private Collection Showing a Community Relations Center
There is a lot of information, and misinformation online, and in the media, one thing we can do is, read newspaper articles from the time, (and while the content was not always 100% accurate, there are several things we need to take into account that is always accurate), 1st, dates aren’t wrong they are not subjective, when someone says yesterday and they are speaking/writing for instance on the 28 of Aug 1926, they are referring to the 27th of August 1926, it could be no other day because as we all know dates, and times are objective, and not subjective. So dates, and times are the same for everyone, and 2nd, choice of language, comfort with certain words, or expressions is evidence of a different time. We will try to bring as many of those articles as we can, along with stories from those who worked during those times 50 to 100, or more years ago. The changes will be obvious, Race and Sex relations have changed dramatically over the years, from refusal to hire women in 1909 and then when they finally did hire women police they had a different classification, they were, Policewomen, and men were, Policemen. To the 1920's when they refused to hire African Americans. It was 1920 when a commissioner said he would not hire a "Negro" he went on to say, "The psychological time had not come" it would be 17 years, 1937 before they would hire African Americans, and a different Police Commissioner. And it wasn't just Race, and Sex, they also discriminated against Height, at one time (the date mentioned earlier, 27 August 1926) they increased the height and weight requirement of an officer by 3 inches, and 10 lbs, from 5'7" 140lbs, to 5'10" 150 - At the time they said, anything less than 5"10" 150lbs was less than, "The cream of the crop" as far as "manhood" was concerned, and lets not forget the 1950's - 1960's when they had recruit posters that said, "Are you Man enough?" Obviously gearing ther hiring practices toward men. With the following we hope to show the truth through articles that tell the story of difficult times, different times, and some terrific fighters, like Mrs. Lieutenant Violet Whyte that worked for what they wanted, and changed history within the Baltimore Police department to take an already great department with some issues, and make it better.
Baltimore Police Recruit Poster
The first African American Officer, Ms.Violet Hill Whyte was hired on 3 Dec 1937. In an editorial, the Baltimore Sun said, "She worked in an all-white, mostly Male-Dominated institution, and won the respect of all those she worked with, she did it through hard work, and human understanding." The Sun report went on to say she explained her success by saying, "I'm not afraid of hard work." During her 30 years on the police force, she proved “hard work!” time and time again, she worked 16 to 20 hour days. Often she would begin her shift at 6 a.m. and not leave until midnight or 1 a.m. only to go home and be back in the station by 6 a.m. She worked cases, as well as collecting clothing for inmates, and the poor. She made holiday baskets for the needy and counselled delinquent kids and their families. She once said, "Being first at anything is hard because you represent so many others; if you do poorly, everyone will think all those you represent will also do poorly." I understand what she means, and how that can be hard, If I were voting for someone to become, County Council, and I heard one of the guys running was Irish, and a Retired Baltimore Police Officer, some might think he would automatically have my vote, but actually, I would want to make sure that if his nationality and former employment was a factor; before he got my vote, I knew he would represent us well, and that is Lieutenant Whyte was saying, if she had done poorly, it would reflect on all of her sex and all of her race, and would have people saying, we must all be like that; so if we are all going to be judged on the acts, or conduct of one, then let us send the best we have. Let's not send the first that asked to go. Mrs. Whyte, went in alone, she was notably the first African American Police Officer, and she represented well; 30 years, not one day missed; 30 years, she did more than she was asked, she worked doubles and more. She was an example not just for Women and African American Police, but for all police, it is sad that she is only remember for being the first African American Officer on the Baltimore Police Department, because she was so much more. Lieutenant Whyte was a good police officer, she was a hard working police officer, a caring police officer… and she should be known for that… more than the color of her skin.
Sadly Lieutenant Violet Hill Whyte passed away on 17 July, 1980 while in the Keswick nursing home where she had been since November 1979. - God bless her, and thank her for her service. There is no use in being first, if you can’t also be the best, and she was said to have been the best by any standard.
What Follows are the Many Articles that Tell the Story if Mrs Lieutenant Whyte
First let's take a look at this Newspaper Article dated 3 July 1920, with a headline of - "No Negro Policemen, and General Gaither's Dictum"
Newspaper - 3 July 1920 - No Negro Policemen, General Gaither’s Dictum.
Subtitled; Announces none will be appointed, even if they pass examination -
Declares time is not right - Representative of Colored Race Informed of Decision,
Can Maintain Order without them, Commissioner Rules.
Police Commissioner Charles D. Gaither has decided that Negroes although they take the examination, will not be appointed to the police force. General Gaither declared yesterday (2 July 1920) that "The psychological time had not come in Baltimore for the appointment of Negroes to the force." The Negro population was informed of General Gaither's stand through a Negro newspaper. Carl Murphy, colored editor of the paper, called on General Gaither Tuesday and asked for the General's, "position on the subject of appointing colored men to the force providing they are successful in passing the examination, and their names were entered on the eligible list." The General told Murphy the time has not come for such action and that he positively would not appoint a colored man as a member of the Department. Murphy pointed out that New York City with the force of nearly 11,000 policeman at 8 Negro policeman. General Gaither replied that if the same percentage were applied to the local Department Baltimore would have no Negro policemen. There is no doubt, said General Gaither, "That colored policeman could be of value to the Department under certain conditions, but Baltimore does not need Negro policeman at this time. Our officers and patrolman have for many years maintained law and order in Negro neighborhoods and we propose to do so in the future. As far as I am concerned the question of appointment of Negroes to the police force is settled." Colored men interested in having negroes appointed to the force made an appeal to the former police board headed by General Lawrason Riggs. At that time information was submitted showing that the following cities had negro policeman, Pittsburgh 65 Trenton 2, Philadelphia 300 Cincinnati 9, Chicago 95, New York 8, Los Angeles 18, Cleveland 15, Detroit 14, Indianapolis 13 Boston 25. Figures were also submitted showing the cities which did not employ colored policemen. The large southern cities not having negro policeman were New Orleans, and Atlanta. General Riggs told the negro delegation then that he did not think the time had come for the appointment of negroes to the force.
There were similar articles written in the Baltimore Sun 1909, Titled "Woman Cops?-- OH, My!" Subtitled "Police Officials Discuss Rev. Anna H. Shaw's Plan". it goes on to say, "Best Beat For a Woman, Takes Her All Over Her House", as they were rejecting the hiring of women on the force in 1909. In June, and July of 1912, Ms. Mary S. Harvey, and Margaret B. Eagleston became the first women hired by the Baltimore Police Department. So while there were issues over hiring Womens, and over hiring African American Officers, it may come as a surprise that first African American Officer hired was a woman. General Gaither was Baltimore’s Police Commissioner from 1920 until 1937, on 4 December, 1937, after Gaither's exit from the Baltimore Police Department, Mrs. Violet Whyte would become Baltimore Police Department's first Africa American Officer. She would eventually become assigned to the Northwest District, where she worked for 30 years, sometimes working 16 and even 20 hours a day. In 1955 she was promoted to the rank of Sergeant, and in 1967 several months before retirement, Sgt. Whyte was promoted to Lieutenant. She retired on 7 December 1967, but continued working for anywhere from several weeks, to several months depending on who you talk to, or what you read... But one thing they all say, she was a hard worker, she was determined and she had to finish a project or several projects that she had started.
African Americans in the department
More on Lieutenant Violet Whyte, by way of several Sun paper reports
POLICE WORK BEGUN BY COLORED WOMAN
Mrs. Whyte, First Negro Member of Force, Assigned To Northwestern
Newspaper 4 Dec 1937
Qualifications For Post Are Cited By Commissioner Lawson
Mrs. Violet Whyte, Baltimore's first colored member of the Police Department, last night took over her duties as policewoman, assigned for the moment to the Northwestern district. William P. Lawsan, Commissioner of Police, in a statement outlining her qualifications for the post, said last night that after her work in Northwestern was finished she would be available for duty elsewhere in the city.
Various Posts Named
Among the posts she has held, or now holds, which fit her for her job, Commissioner Lawson named the following: Teacher in the School of Christian Education. Member, advisory board, Civic League. President, Intercity Child Study Association, Teacher, Department of Parent Education. Executive secretary, Parent-Teacher Federation, Policewoman Whyte is an active member of the Negro State Republican League.
“Lady Law” Leaves The Force After 30 Years
But Only Formally: as Volunteer She Still Helps All
7 December 1967
“Lady Law” as Lieutenant Violet Hill Whyte is known of hundreds of persons in West Baltimore, has formally retired from the Baltimore Police Department. But Lieutenant Whyte, the soft-spoken slender woman who made headlines as the first and Negro police woman to join the force 30 years ago, (7 Dec 1967) still comes to her office at 6:00 A.M.) every morning. She organized the distribution of Thanksgiving baskets to needy families throughout the city, and is now planning a Christmas party for 4000 children at the Royal Theatre on Pennsylvania Avenue.
Holiday Project Goes
She councils as many as 125 persons a month who come from the city and county to see her and in addition, works a regular 8 hours a day as a member of the Western District force.
Although she officially retired December 3, Lieutenant Whyte will continue those, and other activities on a volunteer bases until the end of her “Holiday” projects.
So she continues to collect Christmas toys in laundry baskets in the police station, and to gather clothes for prisoners and their families. She is so awakened at all hours of the night by those who want, her help, or sometimes they call about the “Good News” she said, referring to a woman who phoned at 1:30 A.M. because she was, “so glad” about the birth of her first grandson.
She would described by retired Judge Charles E. Moylan Sr. of the supreme bench of Baltimore as a “one-woman-police-force, and a one-woman-social-worker combined” she has worked narcotics cases, homicides, assaults, sexual abuse, and robberies during her 30 year career.
She is Known for Bravery
Once she played the part of a “drunkard, cigarette smoking, dope addict” to help bring about the capture of a narcotics gang. For that she received a Federal citation, and was invited to appear before the Keauver committee investigating criminal rackets.
Lieutenant Whyte, rarely carried a gun, in one incident she declined an escort as she went to help a 12 year-old-girl being held by an armed man.
She said she enjoys testifying in court, and disliked child abuse cases more than any other assignments
I Get Emotionally Involved
“It’s with the children that I find I get emotionally involved,” she said “Emergencies always seem to happen before 6:00 AM” she said, adding she never needed a sleeping pill to go back to sleep when she was awakened, and never missed a day at work on account of illness, or otherwise.
Lieutenant Whyte, the only Female Lieutenant of the 46 women on the police force, she was born in Washington, and came to Baltimore as a young girl. Her father the Rev. Daniel G. Hill was a Methodist Minister (Bethal AME), and her mother a teacher.
Has Five Children
She graduated from Douglass High School, and Coppin State College. She was married to a public school teacher, who went on to become a principal himself, and who is now dead. She has five grown children.
“Retirement from one’s job doesn’t mean actual retirement” she said. She is spoken in every State in the country, and expects to continue her speaking career. She is also thinking of taking a job in the community service field.
But after 30 years of work on countless crimes, and a lifetime of participating in church, and civic activities, she has one more wish – Time to grow flowers at her house on Elsinore Avenue.
A testimonial fete will be held at 7:30 P.M. today in her honor at the Blue Crest North
Whyte, Black Police Pioneer, Dies
22 July 1980
Lieutenant Violet Whyte who in 1937 became the first black officer to be appointed to the city’s police force always said “I’m not afraid of work” The lieutenant who died last Thursday at the age of 82 proved during her 30 years on the police force, she meant what she said. Lieutenant Whyte often worked as many as 16 hours a day collecting clothing to the inmates and Thanksgiving baskets for the needy, and counseling to like what youngsters and their families in addition to handling cases that ranged from homicide, to child abuse. The late juvenile court Judge Charles E Moylan Sr. once called her a, “One-Woman-Police-Force and One-Woman-Social-Worker Combined!” Known as, “Lady Law” to her coworkers, the former police Lieutenant, and social activists never carried a gun. Born in Washington, she was the daughter of the Methodist minister, “My father taught me young, not to fear death, nothing has helped me as much in police work!” she said once, after helping the capture a narcotic gang, and impersonating a drunken, cigar smoking, dope addict on one of the most of the chilling of winter nights! For this action she was invited to appear before, The Kefauver committee, which was investigating organized crime in 1952. She moved to Baltimore as a child and was a graduate of Douglass a senior high school, and Coppin State Teachers College. For about six years, she taught grammar school in Frederick County, then marrying thee late George Sumner Whyte, a city school principal she stopped teaching, and raised four children. Two of them were adopted. In 1937 she became the first black police officer in the city of Baltimore and was assigned to the Northwestern District. In 1955 she was promoted to the rank of sergeant, she was in charge of the policewomen, and transferred to the newly opened Western District Because of the uniqueness of her occupation at the time she was asked to appear on The TV game show “To Tell the Truth” in 1962 and channel thirteen’s “The Brent Gunts show”. In October 1967 just too months before retirement she was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant. She once told a reporter that of all the cases she ever worked to dislike child abuse of the most “It’s with the children that I find I get emotionally involved,” she said After retiring from the police force in December of 1967, she became a field work supervisor for Planned Parenthood of Maryland and “continued visiting inmates and nursing homes with her sunshine bag of gifts and toiletries,” her daughter, Esther C Bailey, said yesterday “I belonged to everything in Baltimore!” Lieutenant Whyte one said, when questioned about her numerous affiliations. She was appointed by both governors McKeldin, and Tawes to the board of managers of Boise and village in a Cheltenham. She was also on the Board of Directors of provident hospital a board member for the former Maryland safety council, a member of the speakers’ bureau of the women’s Christian temperance union, a member of the Lambda Kappa Mu sorority, the Charmettes, a social group. The Phi Beta Sigma Wives, the F.E.W. Harper Elks Lodge No 429 and the Matinee Ensemble, a civic association The in addition to her daughter in Baltimore she is survived by two other daughters grace and Daniel of war Simpson and Grace Virginia of Waynesboro Pennsylvania, a sundial rustle of Eden Maryland three sisters Esther hill Isaiah and grace hill Jake up and Lea hill Fletcher all of Petersburg a Brother Joseph N hill of New York City and five grandchildren. Services for the lieutenant will be held at noon today at Bethel AME church 1300 sold 110. The family suggests that expressions of sympathy be in the form of a memorial contributions to the acute stroke unit care of Dr. Elijah Sanders, provident hospital, 2600 Liberty Heights avenue
African Americans in the Department
A historically Irish American dominated police department, African Americans were not hired as police officers until 1937 when Violet Hill Whyte became the BPD's first African American officer.
The first African American male officers Walter T. Eubanks Jr., Harry S. Scott, Milton Gardner, and J. Hiram Butler Jr. were hired in 1938, all of whom were assigned to plainclothes. In 1943, African American officers were finally allowed to wear police uniforms, and by 1950, there were fifty African American officers in the department. Patrolman Henry Smith Jr. became the first African American officer to die in the line of duty in 1962, when he was shot to death breaking up a dice game on North Milton Avenue in east Baltimore. The department itself had not fully integrated until 1966.
Prior to 1966, African American officers were limited to foot patrols as they were barred from the use of squad cars. These officers were quarantined in rank, barred from patrolling in White neighborhoods, and would often only be given specialty assignments in positions in the Narcotics Division or as undercover plainclothes officers. Further, African American officers were the target of racial harassment from their Caucasian coworkers and African American citizens in the communities they patrolled. During this time African American officers were subject to racial slurs from white co-workers during roll call, and encountered degrading racial graffiti in the very districts/units they were assigned. During this time period, two future police commissioners of Baltimore, Bishop L. Robinson and Edward J. Tilghman were amongst Baltimore's African American police officers.
During the civil rights movement, trust between the department and the largely African American city were strained. Racial riots due to police brutality were occurring all over America, and the racial mistreatment at the hands of several White officers labeled Baltimore as a trouble spot for violence. The police force at the time was also under study of the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) as the department was severely troubled at the time. The IACP report showed the BPD to be the most corrupt and antiquated in the nation with an almost non-existent relationship with Baltimore's African American community. This lack of relationship resulted in African American citizens being subject to both excessive force from police officers, and retaliation from community members for interacting with city police officers. The changes demanded in the report occurred almost overnight with the hiring of new police commissioner Donald Pomerleau. Pomerleau himself was a prior-service Marine who authored the IACP report committed to changing the department and improving relations with Baltimore's African American community.
After Pomerleau's hiring, the department made reforms to improve the relations with Baltimore's growing African American community, including ending the segregationist practices within the department. In 1968, racial rioting in response to the murder of Martin Luther King Jr. broke out across Baltimore's African American neighborhoods. As few African American officers held rank within the department during the riot the white-dominated police department found itself at odds against the African American community. In 1971, the Vanguard Justice Society was founded, an organization representing the rights and interests of the department's African American officers. Throughout the 1970s, more African Americans advanced in the department with Black officers holding the positions of district commanders and chief of patrol. In 1984, in a political move by Mayor Donald Schaefer to give the majority African American population more power in the city, Bishop L. Robinson was named as Baltimore's police commissioner. Robinson was the first African American police officer to command the department which was previously controlled by Irish American and Italian American police officers. Robinson was also the force's first Black officer to command the Eastern District and the Patrol Division. The department also redefined several of its racial policies in direct response to riots in Los Angeles and Miami as a means of avoiding similar racial tension in a city with a larger percentage of African American citizens.
Currently, the department is administered by Commissioner Anthony Batts and Deputy Commissioner of Patrol Garnell Green, both of whom are African American.
During Martin O'Malley's administration as mayor, the department had become 43% African American. While progress has been made to improve the department's relationship with Baltimore's now majority African American community, improvements are still being made to the department which for several years has been subject to criticism for its treatment of African American citizens. Police community relations have remained strained with the war on drugs that has plagued several African American neighborhoods in East and West Baltimore and coincidentally enough, many of the most despised officers in several of Baltimore's African American neighborhoods are also African American.
There is a street named for Mrs. Whyte, (Violet Hill White Way, Baltimore, MD 21201) it mispelled her name. Seeing as she was a hero that fought for what was right, and helped to pave the way for other African American Police; it might be good to work to have that street name corrected to spell her name Whyte, instead of White.
2nd African American Woman Chosen as Police Woman - Mrs. Carolyn M. Robinson is 5th of Race to be Named to Department
The department's second African American Female Officer was hired on 29 September 1942. She was a graduate of Morgan University, and a former superintendent of the Maryland Training School for colored girls. As a member of the Police Department she will be assigned as an assistant to Mrs. Violet H. Whyte, the first Negro ever named to the Police Department in the Northwestern District. This information comes from the Sun paper 30 September 1942, an article titled “2D Negro Chosen for Police Woman - Mrs. Carolyn M. Robinson Is Fifth Of Race to Be Named to Department” and written as follows - The second Negro policewoman named to the Baltimore Police Department assumed her duties in the Northwestern district yesterday 29 Sept 1942 immediately after being appointed, Police Commissioner Robert F. Stanton announced. She is Mrs. Carolyn M. Robinson, a graduate of Morgan College and former superintendent of the Maryland Training School for Colored Girls. As an assistant to Mrs. Violet H. Whyte, the first Negro ever named to the Police Department, Mrs. Robinson will work among delinquents in the Northwestern District.
Fifth Negro in Department
The appointment came following announcement of the findings of the subcommittee on employment or the Governor's Commission which was asked to study problems affecting Maryland's Negro population. It recommended that greater participation should be given Negroes in community activities which affect their race. Mrs. Robinson is the fifth Negro to be admitted to the Police Department. Mrs. Whyte was appointed in 1923, and three Negro patrolmen were named a year later. They do plainclothes work exclusively.
Suggested for Uniformed Duty
A trial or uniformed Negro police for patrol duty in the congested Pennsylvania avenue region was suggested to Commissioner Stanton last Friday in the report of a special committee of the State Commission for the Study of Colored Problems
A Negro Captain
The Sun (1837-1987); Oct 10, 1965
Baltimore’s first Negro police captain, Dennis P. Mello, has attained his new rank and new position as head of the Western police district because he is a Negro. Rather than as an exercise in reverse racial discrimination, his promotion may be dewed as an enlightened community experiment, an effort to see if relations between police and citizens in the generally impoverished and deteriorating Western district can he improved by giving “the law" less of the appearance of resented white authority and more of the look of community understanding and concern.
Born into poverty and discrimination himself, Captain Mello is perhaps the ideal man to set the policing tone in a district where there is critical need to engender an understanding of and respect for law enforcement. He knows the problems, and he knows from personal experience that there are ways out of the squalor and deprivation. He can be insistent and tough without being charged with racial misunderstanding and bias. But tough he is going to have to be, because he is first and foremost a police officer, not a social worker, and his first and foremost duty will be to mount an unrelenting war on narcotics, assaults, burglaries, armed robbery and street disorders. Crime is the community's enemy, irrespective
of race; and Captain Mello’s police career will be judged primarily by how well he fights against it, irrespective of race.
Bishop L Robinson
Our first African American Police Commissioner
Bishop L. Robinson - Edward Tilghman
Bishop L. Robinson (born January 16, 1927), was the first African American police commissioner of Baltimore, Maryland who was Commissioner of the Department between 1984 and 1987. A graduate of Douglass High School, Coppin State University and the University of Baltimore school of law, Robinson joined the department in 1952, earned the rank of sergeant in 1964, Lieutenant in 1969, Captain in 1971, Major in 1973, Lt. Colonel in 1974, Colonel in 1975, Deputy Commissioner of Operations in 1978 and Commissioner in 1984. Robinson also represented the Baltimore Police Department in the founding of NOBLE, a national organization of African American police officers from various American cities in 1976, and rose to the rank of commissioner in 1984. For Robinson's first 14 years in the department until 1966, African American officers were quarantined in rank, not allowed to patrol in white neighborhoods, and barred from the use of squad cars during a time period where the Civil Rights Movement, Vietnam War, and Black Power movements took place. Robinson was elevated to the command of Commissioner in a department long dominated by Irish American officers and briefly dominated by Italian American officers as a means of giving African American officers control of the department as Baltimore City became solidly Majority African American. Following his service as Baltimore Police Commissioner, he served as Secretary of the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services from 1987 to 1997 in the Cabinet of Governors William Donald Schaefer and Parris Glendening, and subsequently as Secretary of the Maryland Department of Juvenile Justice in the Cabinet of Governor Parris Glendenning from 2000 to 2003.
"What am I up to now? Not very much," says Bishop L. Robinson, 80, the city's first African-American police commissioner. "I spent 50 years in government and started my career with the Baltimore Park Police. I then moved on to the city Police Department and climbed every rank -- I didn't miss a step -- until Mayor William Donald Schaefer appointed me commissioner in 1984." When Schaefer was elected governor, Robinson followed him to Annapolis, where he served two terms as public safety director, and then one term during the administration of Gov. Parris N. Glendening. He was state juvenile secretary when he retired in 2003. "I do a little consulting for Affiliated Computer Services. It's a national company that handles red light cameras, speed cameras and E-ZPass," he says. "And I'm enjoying it. I get a chance to travel and meet people in other cities. And guess what? They're having many of the same problems as Baltimore. Some of them are even looking for police commissioners, but I tell them I'm not looking and I'm not in the market," Robinson says with a laugh. A big honor came his way this summer when the city's newly renovated police headquarters at East Fayette and President streets was renamed the Bishop L. Robinson Sr. Police Administration Building. "My wife, Ruthie Ann Robinson, and Oliver Walker, the oldest living Baltimore City African-American police officer who retired 36 years ago, spearheaded the effort to have the building named after me," he says. "Imagine a building with a cop's name on it. I drive by every day just to make sure that the sign with my name on it is still there," he says, laughing. Robinson and his wife enjoy traveling, they just returned from a trip to the Bahamas. Currently, they are keeping busy, raising a new dog -- Louie, a standard poodle -- and keeping Angelique, a Shih Tzu, from suffering fits of jealousy."Actually, as far as my life is concerned, everything is going real well," Robinson says.
One of our first African American Police Officers
John Ellis "Bo" Blackwell
John Ellis "Bo" Blackwell, one of the first African-Americans to be appointed to the Baltimore Police Department, who overcame racism and enjoyed a 30-year career with the department, died Oct. 30 of respiratory failure at Sinai Hospital. The Ellicott City resident was 83. "John was a pioneering African-American officer and he kept us focused. We stand on his shoulders," said Edward V. Woods, who served as police commissioner from 1989 to 1993. "Thank God for people like John who always gave his all. We are a better community for it and the department is now a healthy and representative mixture of people," said Mr. Woods. "It is now representative of all the people, and in the old days, it wasn't that way." The eldest of five children, John Ellis Blackwell was born to Gladys Blackwell Gray in St. Michaels. He spent his early childhood on the Eastern Shore before moving to Baltimore, where he attended city public schools. In 1947, Mr. Blackwell, who had dropped out of school, joined the Marine Corps. He served for several years before taking a job at Bethlehem Steel Corp.'s Sparrows Point shipyard. While working at the shipyard, Mr. Blackwell and several friends decided on a whim to take the written examination for the Baltimore Police Department. Of that group, he was the only one selected to become an officer on Sept. 13, 1950. By 1950, there were only six black police officers on the force — the first three having been appointed in 1938 — who were kept in plainclothes for five years to "investigate Negro vice," reported The Baltimore Sun in a 1969 article. The article also observed that African-American officers weren't "particularly popular in their old neighborhoods." "We could only work in black communities and couldn't drive police cars. White people wouldn't let black officers arrest them, even though we had full police powers," recalled Mr. Woods. "We were excluded to one area of the city." But Mr. Blackwell and his fellow African-American officers soldiered on, working to prove themselves in order to get ahead while enduring station house jokes laced with racial overtones and racial epithets. Integrated patrol cars didn't arrive until the mid-1960s, and it took a picket line of black officers in 1963 at City Hall and police headquarters to integrate previously all-white units such as the crime lab and K-9 Corps. "I first met John in 1959, who was a patrolman in the Central District," recalled Mr. Woods. "In those early days, John helped keep me focused. He kept saying, 'You have a place here and you'll be a good law officer.' He gave me a certain stick-to-it-a-tiv-ness," said Mr. Woods. "He was an inspiration in those really very stressful times. He'd also say, 'Be proud of what you're doing.'" Mr. Blackwell later became an administrative assistant, Mr. Woods said, to Maj. Clarence Roy in the department's community relations division. He retired in 1980. "While serving as a police officer, he obtained his GED and received an associate's degree in 1971, graduating on the same exact day his daughter received her bachelor's degree in Washington from George Washington University," said a granddaughter, Candace N. White, a lawyer who lives in Manhattan, Kan. Mr. Woods said that he and Mr. Blackwell lived several blocks away from each other. "John and his family were like a second family to me. He was a great joy," he said. Mr. Blackwell had lived in Walbrook Junction, Pimlico and Pikesville before moving to Palm Coast, Fla., with his wife, the former Geraldine Cordelia "Gerri" Taylor, whom he married in 1949. In addition to being an all-around handyman who liked home improvement projects, Mr. Blackwell was an avid fisherman. He and his wife also enjoyed boating and for more than 30 years lived several months of the year aboard the Gerri-Jac, their 46-foot houseboat moored at the Baltimore Yacht Basin on Insulator Drive and at the Crescent Marina in Fells Point. Mr. Blackwell was a founder in 1975 and later served as commodore of the Dolphin Cruising Club, Baltimore's only black yacht club, which was part of the Federation of Black Boaters based in Jamaica, N.Y. In 1978, the couple were instrumental in the chartering of Flotilla 19 of the Coast Guard Auxiliary in Baltimore. He was the flotilla's first commander and attained Coast Guard Auxiliary retired status. Mr. Blackwell also liked to take cruises and traveled by steamship to Bermuda and the Caribbean. "Bo could sometimes seem quiet and reflective, but he was always up for a good time and enjoyed life with gusto," his granddaughter said. "He was never one to hold back an opinion and advice or turn down an offer of crabs and a cold beer." His wife of 54 years died in 2003, and in recent years, he lived with his daughter in Ellicott City. "He lived an amazing life. He was born of a young mother, raised in a rural community by his grandparents, and against all odds, became a public servant, earned a college degree, traveled all over the world and lived to know his great-grandchildren," said his daughter, Dr. Jacalyn Blackwell-White, a pediatrician. Mr. Blackwell was a member of Palm Coast United Methodist Church in Florida. He was also a member of St. John Baptist Church, 9055 Tamar Drive, Columbia, where services will be held at 2:30 p.m. Sunday. In addition to his daughter and granddaughter, Mr. Blackwell is survived by two brothers, Charles Gray and Joseph Gray, both of Baltimore; another granddaughter; and three great-grandchildren.
Baltimore Police honor sergeant who served amid segregation
Dixon remembered as a trailblazer for blacks in the police force
James Dixon joined the Baltimore Police Department in 1954 as a black officer in an era of widespread racial prejudice. Police posts were segregated and blacks were not allowed in patrol cars. On Tuesday, a quarter-century after he retired as a sergeant, Dixon returned to the department for a ceremony to honor his service and thank him for his role in helping the department through a time of social change. Dixon, 77, was given a BPD hat and coffee mug. "I think today was really good for him because I don't think he realized how far the Police Department has come," said Derrick Dixon, James' son. "So for him to come out here and see a lot of Afro-American officers and commissioners, I think it blew his mind. "I think now he realizes a lot of the things he did for the Police Department and a lot of first-time things he did for blacks and realizes what it led to," Derrick Dixon said. The segregation in the police wasn't anything new for James Dixon, after his service in the military. He was one of hundreds of Marines from Montford Point, an all-black boot camp in North Carolina, to receive a Congressional Gold Medal last month. "This was something I never expected, although the Tuskegee Airmen got theirs, so we shouldn't have been very far behind them," James Dixon said. "This is something I will cherish for the few days I have left in my life. But this is something I'm going to have framed and hung on the wall." Dixon served in the Marines from 1944 until 1946, but his placement there was itself a stroke of luck. Drafted by the Navy, Dixon was willing to go to prison rather than join a unit where he was forced to serve food or swab decks like other blacks who were in the Navy during that era. "I [said] that if I was put in the Navy, I was going AWOL because I wasn't going to serve any food or scrub any decks," Dixon said, teary-eyed. "Had I been put in the Navy, I would be in jail now. I'm not a servant." Much has changed since then, but the department has not forgotten Dixon's contributions, said Acting Commissioner Anthony E. Barksdale. "He's stood strong through all of it. And look at him. Still shining; still standing strong," said Barksdale. "He's giving me advice and telling me stories that are making me happy that I'm wearing the same uniform that he used to wear."
Equal Discipline Promised for Police Black, White Officers treated Differently, some say
August 15, 1996
Responding to complaints that black Baltimore police officers are treated more harshly than their white colleagues when charged with misconduct, the city's police chief is vowing to make changes to ensure "equal discipline for equal infractions." Last week, members of the City Council and several current and former black officers accused Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier of tolerating a double-standard in how black and white officers are disciplined. Yesterday, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke agreed that the department has a problem and put Frazier on notice that he needs to do more -- and do it quickly. "It has not been dealt with as good as it should be," the mayor said. "But I am convinced that the commissioner is working on solutions so it will not be a problem in the future. I think there is a problem over there, but it's one that can be solved." In a 90-minute interview Tuesday, Frazier said he will cooperate with a City Hall probe into why black officers are far more likely than white members to be fired or severely disciplined, in many cases for committing similar offenses. "The key is that discrimination will not be tolerated in any form," Frazier said, responding for the first time to harsh criticism leveled at him at a council hearing last week. The commissioner said he already has instituted many reforms, including increasing the number of black officers who investigate misconduct, and plans to do more to assure his department that discrimination is not acceptable. At the council hearing, several current and former officers -- some fired for misconduct -- testified that white officers facing similar charges were only reprimanded. The hearing was prompted by a report by former Officer Donald Reid, who found that of the 139 officers fired since 1985, 99 were black and 37 were white. Blacks make up 35 percent of the 3,100-member department. Reid's lengthy report circulated in the department before Frazier was hired in 1994. Three years ago, he wrote to then-Commissioner Edward V. Woods and complained that nothing was being done. Yesterday, Reid said that once again his complaints are being ignored. He charged that Frazier is taking credit for reforms instituted by his predecessor and said Frazier and Schmoke knew of the problems two years ago. Reid said a higher percentage of blacks has been fired under their administration than in the previous decade. Frazier "has simply not cared about the problem since day one," Reid said. "He had ample time to resolve the problem."
Lt. Violet Hill Whyte
Sun Paper Articles
December 1937 - African Americans were not hired as police officers until 1937 when Violet Hill Whyte became the BPD's first Female African American officer hired by the force.
9 July 1938 - Four African American men have been apointed to the Baltimore Police Department William P. Lawson, Commissioner Police, announced yesterday.
27 January 1947 - Patrolman James H. Butler, Jr., who Saturday (25 Jan 1947) was promoted to sergeant, is the first African American to attain that rank in the Baltimore Police Department.
8 Oct 1965 - Bernard J. Schmidt, police comissioner, yesterday promoted Lt. Dennis P. Mello, 52, to captain, the first African American to attain that rank in the Baltimore Police Department
10 Oct 1965 - Baltimore's first African American police captain, Dennis P. Mello, has attained his new rank and new position as head of the Westem police district because he is a Negro. Rather than as an exercise in reverse racial discrimination, his promotion may be viewed as an enlightened community experiment...
6 Oct 1967 - Despite efforts to recruit African Americans for the Baltimore police force, figures released yesterday by the Police Department show that only 6.8 per cent of the force is African American.
12 Febuary 1968 - More than half of the discharged servicemen accepted into the Baltimore city Police Department in a three-week recruitment drive are African American, Major Lon F. Rowlett, department personnel director, said Saturday.
13 March 1968 - Police departments across the nation are showing interest in the Baltimore Police Department's use of mobile vans to recruit African Americans, according to Ralph G. Murdy, deputy commissioner of administration.
16 Febuary 1969 - Black police: men in the middle - The African American policemen in Baltimore is the man in the middle. He is scorned by some in the black community as "Just another cop." He is looked down upon by some white officers as "Just another African American."
The story we promised earlier came from a white officer that came on in the mid 50's he gave this story and told it with passion, in his late 80's you could hear the hate in his voice as he told the beginning of his story, but as the story went on and he became more educated, we could hear the tone in his voice change, we could hear him go from hating someone he didn't know, to becoming a friend, to becoming a partner. When he reolized everything he had heard, and had been told over the years was wrong, he reolized the mistake he had made, he and his partner both had these strong feeling of hatred for one another until they learned they were wrong. I'll put the story as it was told to me, and then we'll put some follow-up information.
The story was told as Follows;
“When I joined it wasn’t racist for the white officers not to like the black, and the black not to like the white. It was just the way it was, times were different, it may be hard for someone today to understand, but today we know there is no difference between a white man, and a black man other than skin color. Back then the “N” word was a commonly used word, I used it, my bosses used, we wrote it in (police) reports, it seemed like newspapers up until the 70’s referred to a black man as a Negro, and women as Negress. Martin Luther King, referred to a black man as a Negro, so Negro wasn’t an issue, and back then the “N” wasn’t an issue, or at least it wasn’t as obvious. Then we were segregated, and as such we didn’t know better, it could be considered propaganda, education, or a lack of an honest education. But black men didn’t like us, and we didn’t like them. I drove a milk truck before joining the police force, and was at Whitelock St. near North Ave, it was in the am and I turned the corner, (you know there’s a little corner there where there is this, blind spot, and I was in this big milk truck when I took the corner I hit a guy, and he popped up off the street and said, “I’m Ok… I’m Ok, you can go, I’m Ok” well, I wasn’t new to things like that, and didn’t want to lose my job, so I went around to Pennsylvania Ave. down by Gold St. and flagged down a police officer, he was with another officer and I told them I turned the corner and hit a guy, I told them the guy said, he was Ok and told me I could go, but I wanted to make sure I told someone, I didn’t want to be accused of hit and run, the officer said, (and because he didn’t say, “N – word”, and I want you to fully understand, I will say it the way he did).. he said, “Was it a nigger?”, and I didn’t know any better at the time, that is what we said, so I said, “Yes!” And he said, “Don’t worry about it; you can just go back to doing what you were doing!” So I went back to my route, and when I went passed that corner, I saw the guy you know the one I had hit... standing there with another officer, he pointed to me and said, I was the one that hit him, and that I just left! The Officer flagged me down and asked what happened, I told him, what happened, and that it was dark, he was dress in all dark, (well they could see that, he was still wearing the same clothes, and he was dark skinned!) I told the officer what happened and that I didn’t just leave, I went over to Pennsylvania Ave, near Gold, and told some officers around there what had happened. The guy wasn’t hurt, he was walking around fine, the officers assumed he was just trying to roll me, or the company I worked for, and that at first when he claimed he was ok, and sent me on my way, someone must have told him he could get money for being hit, so he stopped the first officer he could find. Back then, the police didn’t like to be used in that way, and times were different. Today, I know it was wrong, for them to have called him an “N” word, and not to have corrected them, but my knowing that didn’t come until years later after joining the police. Driving the milk truck wasn’t a way to make a living, it didn’t pay well, and I was robbed several times; I figured if I was going to be in those tough neighborhoods, I might as well have a gun. So me and an old army buddy went down to the police department and joined; we went down to headquarters and applied for the job; shortly after that, they hired both of us.
We both went through the academy, I was assigned to the Northeastern, I forgot where he went we talked every so often, but for the most part, we lost contact, except one time; I met him down Lexington Market, and he had heard I wasn’t married anymore, he told me I should go talk to Doris, and I said she’s married, he said, no her and husband weren’t working out, so they are separated, well, I contacted her. Doris and I dated before I went off to the Army, and she had moved on. I met a nurse and we were married, my marriage didn’t work out, and since Doris’ Marriage didn’t work out, I went and looked her up, and we have been together ever since.
43 years, 4 kids, 8 step children, 21 grandchildren, 26 great grandchildren and 5 great-great grandchildren later and we are where we are today. But back to his leaving the academy and still at the armory after graduation, he was called aside by a Sergeant and told he wouldn’t be going to the Northeastern, that he and a few of the others would be detailed to the Northwestern District. Well I didn’t mind, back then the Northeastern was called the country club, and I didn’t want that I wanted the action, so I was glad to go to the Northwest; I liked it. After a few months I went to my Sergeant, (Back then we didn’t have Majors, we had Captains, and under the Captain was the Lieutenant, it was a chain of command, and you didn’t break that chain. So anyway, I liked the Northwestern, I had made friends, and I liked the posts I worked, I was young and full of piss and vinegar and liked the action; so I went to my Sergeant and asked if I could stay; if I could make the detail permanent. The Sergeant said, “Are you sure?” and I told him I was positive, and that I wanted to stay. So the sergeant said, we could find out, and he went in and talked to the Administrative Lieutenant, In those days we had four Lieutenants in the district, One for each shift (the Shift Lieutenants), and an Admin Lieutenant that oversaw everything doing the Administrative work in the district – he took care of transfers) The Admin Lieutenant called me in to his office and asked me if it was true, that I wanted to stay. I told him it was! He then asked, “Why would you want to stay here?” I explained that I worked the area before joining the force, I liked the guys I was working with, and I enjoyed the action and wanted to stay. He said, he wouldn’t ask twice, and that he would take care of the paperwork. That was the last I heard of it, a few months later it was official I was transferred to the Northwestern.
It was before desegregation
It was before desegregation, and while we had black officers, they didn’t drive in cars, they couldn’t work certain areas, they hated us, and we hated them… I remember when they desegregated, it was 1966 and we were not happy, I mean we all had regular partners, guys we worked with, we knew and trusted, our partners were guys we knew had our backs, and we didn’t know the black officers, we didn’t know if they would fight when we needed someone to fight, and back then there were a lot of fights. So my Sergeant pulled me aside, and told me, “If this nigger goes to sleep, I want you to call me; I want to you tell me so I can come out and catch him, and then I can fire his black ass, and we can put an end to this bull shit!” so I said, “yes sir!” and I tried, I was ready to turn him in, I didn’t know him, and all I knew was what I had heard, about half way through the shift, (we were working a midnight) and around 3am, it would have been time to hit the hole, (Back then when we were going to go to sleep, we called it, “Hitting the hole”!) but I didn’t know the guy, so I just kept driving around, finally he said to me, “Do you boys hit the hole?” I said, “Hit the hole? I’m sorry, I don’t know what you mean!” (of course I did, but I couldn’t have him know that!). So he said, “Yeah, the hole, you know, go to sleep!” So I said, “No, but if that’s what you want to do, just tell me where to go” so he directed me as to where to go, and we wound up under a bridge, and he wouldn’t go to sleep, I was hoping he would so I could turn him in and get my regular partner back. But we just sat there staring up at the bottom of a bridge, or underpass. Finally I had to go to one of the bars to help them close the place, while I was in there I looked out the door and he was sleeping, so I called it in, and the Sergeant came right out, but when he drove by he was wide awake, the Sergeant just kept driving right on by. To this day I often wonder if he faked sleeping to see what I would do, but it doesn’t matter, because by the end of the second week, we had started talking, I learned about his wife and kids, he had a wife and two kids, I had a wife and kids. He told me his wife worked at a makeup counter downtown; my wife worked a Jewelry counter. Other than skin color, and where we lived, and grew up, we were the same, then we got into a fight arresting some black guy, and I didn’t know if he would help, but he was right in there, he fault as well and as hard any partner I had ever had. By the end of the first month, we had become partners, and there was no way in the world I would have turned him in for sleeping. I was actually sorry they integrated us at first, but by the end of the second week, I was becoming more interested in working together, and again I have to point out this wasn’t the 1990’s or 2000, this was 1966, I came on in the mid 50’s, times were different, the internet wasn’t around, television wasn’t even what it is today. We were not educated to know anything but what we were told, or what we read in the papers, and it wasn’t just us, the black officers hated us white officers too. They hated us to a point, that, and I didn’t find this out until years later, but that night when that officer asked me if we were going to go in the hole, and my Sergeant told me to turn him in for sleeping, his sergeant told him the same. So basically, the white officer’s sergeants, and the black officer’s sergeants hated each other, but they thought alike, they both came up with the same plan to have their officer turn in his partner, so he could have him fired, and then we could return to the way it was. You have to understand that, just in case it isn’t clear, the white officers didn’t want to work with the black officers, but the black officers didn’t want to work with the white officers either... What the black officers wanted was to be able to work any post, to drive patrol cars, wear uniforms etc.
The department itself had not fully integrated until 1966. Prior to 1966, black officers were limited to foot patrol; they were barred from the use of squad cars. These officers were quarantined in rank, barred from patrolling in white neighborhoods, and would often only be given specialty assignments in positions in the narcotics division, or as undercover plainclothes officers. They didn’t want to work with white officers, but they did want to be treated equal. They hated us, they didn’t trust us, we were the same, that’s why I say it wasn’t racist, unless they were racist too, and I don’t think that was the case. I think racist is having the information available, and ignoring the facts, to believe what you want. Or not wanting to ever become friends even after you know we are the same. Once we worked together, we liked each other, I have a picture of my partner hanging on a wall in my living room, I went to his funeral, and to his kid’s graduations, and weddings. We would have been friends earlier, but we didn’t know, and that wasn’t either of our faults, society and the department kept us apart, it was in the rules, and when those were the rules, they didn’t come near us, and we didn’t go near them, they hated us, and we hated them, we both were misinformed about the other. I know I said it before, but as much as I hated the idea of integration at first, I worked about 10, or 11 years before integration, and nearly 20 years after; those 20 years were much better than the first 10 or 11. I made a lot of friends, both black and white, and I know we would have missed out on a lot had we had stayed segregated.
By the way, Kenny, I only used the “N” word in this to help tell the story, I used the “N” word before desegregation, most people did, and as we grew, we learned the word left our vocabulary. The thing is once we learn, and once we know better, we either grew, or we didn’t and where we grew, things got better. There were people that chose to keep hating each other, and things continued down the road in the wrong direction. But for most of us things changed. I hope this helps tell the story, I didn’t want to sugar coat anything. That is a big problem today no one wants to tell it like it was, all anyone has to do though is read a newspaper from the 40’s to maybe about the mid to late 70’s.
Interesting, I spoke to a young lady that thinks this story was referring to her dad, she saw the story on this site and said her dad told her the same story for years as a kid, but from the African American Officer's point of view. He has since deceased, so I won't use his name, but I will say this, according to her, the African American officers of the time (from what her dad told her) were proud of being part of the police that broke the color barrier. They were the Jackie Robinson of the Baltimore Police Department. They put up with a lot of ugly times, to make things what they are today. I came on in 1987, I had several African American partners; race wasn’t an issue, we did our job, we fought together, laughed together and were friends. I can only imagine how it was for everyone involved and am glad to have come on when I did. We have come a long way.
1983 - 15 January 1983 - The First Woman Promoted to District Commander - Major Bessie R Norris, was promoted to Major and assumed her duties as Commander of the Southwestern District
Police Promote Women to District Commander
Baltimore Sun paper 23 December 1982
Police Promote Woman to District Commander
Baltimore city police Commissioner Frank J Battaglia announced several Christmas promotions yesterday, including the appointment of the first woman district commander in departmental history.
Lieut. Bessie R Norris, 49, Dean of students with the department’s education and training division,
The series of promotions was prompted by the upcoming retirement of Col. William L Rawlings chief of criminal investigations division. Col. Rowlands plans to leave the force January 15
Harry C Allender, now a major serving as deputy chief in charge of the central, Southwest and southern districts, was promoted to Col. and will replace Col. Rawlings. The new deputy chief will be Major Calvin Lewis, who is currently commander of the southwestern district.
Major Norris, an 18 year veteran of the force, or replace Major Lewis, in addition to being the first woman district commander, she is also the first black a woman to attain the rank of major.
A native of McBee, South Carolina Major Norris earned her associates degree from the community college of Baltimore 10 years after becoming a police officer. In 1976, she received a Bachelor of Arts degree in criminal justice from Coppin state University.
She was promoted to Lieut. in 1978 and served in the criminal investigations and personnel divisions before working of the shift commander at the Northwest district station. She was the first woman to be a shift commander in the districts.
Major Norris has been working in the education and training division since June. She previously worked in the department’s communication division.
In other promotions, Lieut. Joseph T Newman, head of the recently formed and highly publicized narcotics task force, was promoted to Capt. and named head of the bisection in the criminal investigations division.
Capt. Newman, 36, had been a member the force since 1969. He has worked in criminal investigations division since 1971. In 1980 he received a bronze star for his work and narcotics.
Timeline for African-American Police Officers in America
1878 - First African-American police officer in Boston, Massachusetts: "Sergeant Horatio Julius Homer".
1891 - First African-American police officer in present-day New York City: Wiley Overton, hired by the Brooklyn Police Department prior to 1898 incorporation of the five boroughs into the City of New York.
1911 - First African-American police officer in New York City: Samuel J. Battle, following the 1898 incorporation of the five boroughs into the City of New York, and the hiring of three African-American officers in the Brooklyn Police Department. Battle was also the NYPD's first African-American sergeant (1926), lieutenant (1935), and parole commissioner (1941).
1963 - First African-American police officer of the NYPD to be named a precinct commander: Lloyd Sealy, commander of the NYPD's 28th Precinct in Harlem.
1984 - African-American New York City Police Commissioner: Benjamin Ward
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