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Presented is an overview of African American participation in the New York City Police Department. It is a tribute to all men and women who, in confronting racial discrimination, sought to overcome the burden of second-class citizenship, and by their participation in the Police Department took another step in the African American struggle for equality. As early as the 1890s, these pioneering men and women paved the way for minorities in law enforcement and inspired them to follow in their footsteps into the next century and beyond

 

African American Pioneers

WILEY G. OVERTON
First African American Police Officer Hired by the Brooklyn Police Department

Seven years before the adoption of the charter creating New York City, the independent city of Brooklyn hired the first African American police officer. Wiley Overton was sworn in on March 6, 1891, and assigned as a foot patrolman to the 18th Precinct on Adams Street. However, Overton faced great prejudice from his fellow white officers.  Overton resigned from the Brooklyn Police Department in January of 1892, just ten months after his appointment.

MOSES P. COBB
Second African American Police Officer Hired by the Brooklyn Police Department


Patrolman Moses P. Cobb
Photo: The NYC Police Museum

Moses P. Cobb was appointed to the Brooklyn Police Department on May 14, 1892, and was assigned to the 12th Precinct on Atlantic Avenue. Cobb initially worked as a doorman at the precinct (common for African Americans at the time), eventually becoming a foot patrolman. He was absorbed into the NYPD after the creation of New York City in 1898. He remained in Brooklyn and retired in 1917 after 27 years on the force, becoming one of the longest-serving African American foot patrolmen in the NYPD. Cobb served as inspiration for his brother-in-law, Samuel Battle, to become the first African American to join the consolidated New York City Police Department.


JOHN LEE
Third African American Police Officer Hired by the Brooklyn Police Department

On December 8, 1892, John Lee joined the Brooklyn Police Department and was assigned to the 21st Precinct as a doorman. He officially became a foot patrolman when he was absorbed into the NYPD with the creation of Greater New York in 1898. Lee retired from the NYPD in 1924 after 32 years.

 

SAMUEL J. BATTLE
First African American Police Officer Hired by the NYPD
First African American Sergeant and Lieutenant

As the son of former slaves, Samuel Battle was undaunted by racial barriers and became the first African American hired by the NYPD. Born in 1883 in North Carolina, Battle moved north, eventually settling in Harlem.  Battle decided to join the NYPD in 1910, at a time when no African American had been hired after the consolidation of New York City in 1898. After quietly fighting his initial rejection, Battle was appointed to the NYPD June 28, 1911.  Battle overcame the silent treatment and hazing by his fellow white officers, and would go on to serve the 38th Precinct in Harlem for many years. Breaking racial barriers once again, Battle achieved two historic promotions, becoming the NYPD's first African American sergeant in 1926, and the first African American lieutenant in 1935. In 1941, after 30 years on the force, Mayor Fiorello H. La Guardia appointed Battle the first African American parole commissioner in New York City. He served in this position until 1950.

P.O. Officer Samuel J. Battle, circa 1911.
Photo: The NYC Police Museum


Patrolman Robert H. Holmes

ROBERT H. HOLMES
First African American Police Officer to Die in the Line of Duty, Second African American Police Officer hired by the NYPD

Robert Holmes became the second African American to be appointed to the NYPD, on August 25, 1913, serving the 38th Precinct in Harlem. In 1917 Holmes was shot to death while pursuing a burglar, becoming the first African American to die in the line of duty. Stationhouse flags were lowered to half mast and more than 20,000 people lined the streets of Harlem for the funeral to mourn their lost hero.


CORA I. PARCHMENT
First African American Policewoman

Cora I. Parchment was appointed in 1919, becoming the first African American policewoman in the NYPD.

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LAWON BRUCE
Second African American Policewoman

Lawon Bruce was appointed in January 1920, becoming the second African American policewoman appointed by the NYPD and the first African American policewoman assigned to the staff of Deputy Police Commissioner Mrs. Ellen O'Grady, of the Police Department's Welfare Bureau (later known as the Bureau of Policewomen).

WESLEY C. REDDING
First African American Detective

Wesley Redding joined the NYPD as a patrolman in 1920 and became well known for his bravery and high arrest record, most notably making eight single-handed  felony arrests in one night. Redding was promoted to the position of detective for his fine work, becoming the first African American police detective in the NYPD. Redding's blossoming career was cut short when he died in 1924 after a long illness. 

LOUIS CHISHOLM

First African American to Supervise Integrated Precinct Patrol Units

Louis Chisholm was appointed on March 8, 1921. He was promoted to sergeant in 1930, becoming the second African American sergeant in the history of the Police Department, and also becoming the first African American to supervise integrated precinct patrol units.

EMMANUEL KLINE
First African American Acting Captain

Emmanuel Kline, a graduate of Columbia University, was appointed to the NYPD in 1921 and became the NYPD's fourth African American sergeant in 1938. In 1947 Kline was promoted to the rank of acting captain. Although it was not a permanent civil service rank, Kline became the first African American to reach the rank of captain in the NYPD. Kline retired in 1954, after serving the NYPD for 34 years.

Acting Captain Emmanuel Kline 
Photo: The Roger Abel Collection

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Policewoman Nettie B. Harris
Photo: The Roger Abel Collection

NETTIE B. HARRIS
Third African American Policewoman

Nettie B. Harris was appointed on December 29, 1925, becoming the third African American policewoman and the first African American woman assigned to the Policewomen's Bureau. In August, 1934, she was transferred to the Crime Prevention Bureau in Harlem. She retired in 1951, after serving the Harlem community for 27 years.


GEORGE H. REDDING
First African American Captain, Deputy Inspector, Inspector, and Deputy Chief Inspector


Deputy Chief George H. Redding
Photo: The Roger Abel Collection

George Redding, the younger brother of the late Detective Wesley Redding, was appointed on December 29, 1927, and began his career as a foot patrolman in Harlem. George Redding became the NYPD's fourth African American sergeant (1939), the third African American lieutenant (1943), the first African American full status Captain (1953), the first African American deputy inspector (1953), the first African American Inspector (1956), and the first African American deputy chief inspector (1959), commanding uniformed forces in the east half of Brooklyn.


LLOYD SEALY
First African American Assistant Chief Inspector

Lloyd Sealy was an extraordinary leader, mentor, and scholar dedicated to the communities he served for 34 years. Sealy was appointed as a patrolman on November 21, 1942. Moving quickly through the ranks to lieutenant, he became the NYPD's first African American graduate of the F.B.I. National Academy. In 1963, Sealy was promoted and became the third African American captain in the NYPD, and the first African American to command a Harlem precinct. Within two years Sealy was promoted to deputy inspector, and in 1966 he was promoted to assistant chief inspector, bypassing the ranks of inspector and deputy chief.  This promotion also made Sealy the first African American to be given a borough command, serving Patrol Borough Brooklyn North. After retirement he became an associate professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City and an influential shaper of law enforcement education. He passed away in 1985 at the age of 68. The Library at John Jay College of Criminal Justice is named in his honor.

Assistnat Chief Lloyd Sealy
Photo: The NYC Police Museum


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THOMAS MITCHELSON
First African American Chief of Patrol


Chief Thomas Mitchelson
Photo: The Roger Abel Collection

Thomas Mitchelson's career spanned more than 30 years. Mitchelson was appointed on September 16, 1946, serving as a foot patrolman. By 1973 he became assistant chief inspector in command of the Manhattan North Area, only the third African American to achieve this rank. In 1974 Mitchelson made history by becoming the first African American Chief of Patrol (known at the time as chief of Uniformed Services Bureau), serving in this position until his retirement in 1977.


WILLIAM R. BRACY
Second African American Chief of Patrol


Chief William R. Bracy
Photo: The NYC Police Museum

William Bracy's dedication to the Police Department spanned 36 years, where he was among the highest-ranking African Americans in the NYPD. Bracy was appointed June 1, 1946. In 1954, he was promoted to sergeant and became the first African American to supervise Queens uniformed personnel. Following a series of promotions and precinct commands from 1967 to 1976, Bracy was promoted in 1977 to assistant chief inspector. Chief Bracy became the second African American to achieve the rank of Chief of Patrol at the time of his retirement in July 1982.


BENJAMIN WARD
First African American Police Commissioner

Benjamin Ward's exceptional career in civil service spanned nearly forty years, beginning as a patrolman, to become New York City's first African American police commissioner. Ward was appointed to the NYPD on June 1, 1951, and over the next 15 years he was promoted twice to the rank of lieutenant. While working full-time, Ward also graduated at the top of his class from both Brooklyn College in 1960 and Brooklyn Law School in 1965. In 1966, Ward left the uniformed ranks and held executive positions within the NYPD, most notably as Deputy Commissioner of Community Affairs. Throughout the next decade and a half, Ward would go on to hold prestigious posts as the first African American New York State Correction Commissioner, Chief of the New York City Housing Authority Police Department, and New York City Correction Commissioner. In 1984, Mayor Edward I. Koch named Ward New York City's 34th Police Commissioner, where he headed the largest police department in the nation. Ward retired in 1989 and taught at Brooklyn Law School and at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Benjamin Ward passed away in 2002, at the age of 75. 

Police Commissioner Benjamin Ward
Photo: The NYC Police Museum


The New York City Police Museum thanks the following organizations, institutions, and individuals for their contributions:

New York City Police Department
NYPD Guardians Association Foundation
National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives
Oral History Research Office at Columbia University
The New York Times Photo Archives
Museum of the City of New York
The Roger Able Collection
The Walter Taylor Collection
John Jay College of Criminal Justice
The New York Public Library
The Library of Congress
New York City Department of Cultural Affairs

 

 

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