Atlanta Mayor William B. Hartsfield pushed for the integration of the city’s police force for political reasons, not ethical ones. By the 1940s, the African-American vote in the city became a major factor in winning or losing an election. And Black leaders in prominent communities like Auburn Avenue knew this. They demanded that Black officers be part of the police force. Hartsfield hired eight Black police officers in 1948 and in return he got the Black vote.
With Great Power Comes No Respect or Authority
In 1948, the first Black officers were: Claude Dixon, Henry Hooks, Johnnie Jones, Ernest Lyons, Robert McKibbens, John Sanders, Willard Strickland and Willie Elkins. These men were proud to be on the force but they had no power, respect or real authority in their new roles. This new opportunity brought discrimination from within the department and from the community itself.
They could not arrest whites, ride in patrol cars, or use police headquarters. They first began duty on April 3, 1948 by patrolling Auburn Avenue. The eight carried out their police operations at a nearby Y.M.C.A.
A Little Progress But Not Much
In the first seven years of the experiment, Black officers had to wait their turn to have actual power. According to Atlantapd.org, 1955 saw a steep decline in crime. In fact, major crimes — including murder — fell to 7 percent. This year was monumental for Black officers because Howard Baugh and Ernest Lyons become the first African-American police detectives in the APD. However, in this 7-year span there were only 15 Black officers on the force.
It would take six more years until a Black officer had a leadership role. In 1961, detective Howard Baugh became the first African-American superior officer on March 31. Baugh lived next to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and was also a civil rights activist while on the force.
Claude Everett Mundy, Jr.
In 1961, the first Black officer was killed in the line of duty. According to Odmp.org, Mundy went into a two-story building trying to track down a burglary suspect. He knocked on the door of an apartment and asked the resident to open the door. The door opened and a barrage of gunfire came at him. His partner came back for him, but Mundy died from his wounds on Jan. 5 before EMTs could arrive.
A Step Closer to Equality
In 1962, Black officers were now allowed to arrest all whites, no matter their social status. If they were engaged in criminal activities, they could be apprehended. At this time, the use of one-person patrol cars was expanded.
The Summerhill Riot
By 1966, Black officers were assigned to regular patrol, and a crime prevention bureau was established. This progress occurred as the Civil Rights Movement and riots were taking place around the country. In fact, Atlanta had its own riot and accusations of police brutality to deal with. On September 6, the Summerhill Riot took place in the historic Black and Jewish neighborhood. The four-day riot ended with one person dead and 20 injured. Many of the protesters were young and inspired by Stokely Carmichael and Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.
The Black Female Officers
In 1971, the Atlanta police also began to push for gender equality. So the first African-American woman, Linnie Hollowman, was hired to patrol the Atlanta streets. Like the first eight black officers, she faced an uphill battle to be considered an equal. The first two women to gain rank were Thetus Knox and Blanche Nichols two decades later. Knox served as field patrol sergeant, section commander of the criminal investigations division and zone commander in her career. These two women paved the way for Beverly J. Harvard to become the first African-American woman to hold the rank of chief of police in any major U.S. city in 1994.
From Relative Obscurity to Television
Back in January, Shadow and Act reported that Amy Pascal and Sony Pictures Television will team up with Jamie Foxx to executive produce a Black cop TV series. There isn’t a network, cast or release date as of yet. However, the show is based on Thomas Mullen’s Darktown. The recent novel documents the racial controversy surrounding the first eight Black officers in 1948.
The fictitious crime novel tells the story of two officers searching for a Black woman who was last seen in a car driven by a white man. Officers Boggs and Smith will risk everything to find the woman. If the show is tied to the book, it will have a similar feel to 2014’s True Detective season 1.
source: atlantablackstar.com by