This historical report is a narrative of the development and growth of Black Firefighters in the Houston Fire Department from 1955 to 1986. History is an account of that which is known to have occurred, a record of the past and a narrative of events. Every attempt has been made to present an interesting and factual account of Black Firefighters History. In future years, this information will be used to gauge the growth, development and accomplishments of Black Firefighters.
Materials contained in this report are products of Archives of the Public Library, old reports, memories of both retired and active Firefighters, newspaper clippings and private photographs.
The history of Black Firefighters is brief when compared to other ethnic groups of Firefighters in the Houston Fire Department. Due to many conditions and prejudices Blacks were not allowed in the Houston Fire Department until late 1955.
Not long after the Civil War, Blacks began to awake to a realization that they had been freed from slavery by edict of President Abraham Lincoln. Every 19th of June was celebrated in the best possible manner of parades and barbecues.
During Billy Baker's Administration, Blacks conceived the idea of parading with one of the Fire Department's steamers. A delegation of Blacks went to the Mayor, secured a permit and an order was issued to the all White Fire Department to have the steamer spic and span and placed in Butt's stable at the corner of Milam Street and Preston Avenue the evening before, in order to be ready for the morning of the 19th of June. The morning of the parade, 24 young Blacks uniformed in red flannel shirts and black pants, arrived at the stable for the engine. The steamer failed to appear in the parade because someone sabotaged it during the night to prevent the Black delegation from using it in the parade.
This scenario underscores the relationship African-Americans had with the Houston Fire Department. Blacks were in Houston from it's beginning but the dominant White society reserved the prominent positions and larger profits for itself. Blacks sought to enter the mainstream of Houston's economy to make contributions and to serve the Community. However, because of prejudices, Blacks were not allowed in the Houston Fire Department until late 1955.
Black community leaders, as early as July 27, 1950, tried to get City officials to hire Blacks as Firefighters. A delegation of six Blacks representing the Clinton Park and Trinity Gardens Civic Club, the Greater Fifth Ward Political League, the Elks Civil Liberties Committee, and Local 872 of the AFL International Longshoremen Union went before City Council to request that Blacks be hired as Firefighters. Unfortunately, the City Fathers did not act upon this request at that time.
In 1955, the City of Houston annexed the Community of Clinton Park, a highly concentrated area of Black residents. Prior to this time, the Community had a Volunteer Fire Department manned by Blacks with equipment and a building provided by the Community. With the annexation of this small middle-class area, the City of Houston agreed to hire Black Firefighters to man Station No.42, which was the newly given name of the former Volunteer Fire Station now a City of Houston semblance of Black pride.
Houston, in the 1950's was feeling the growing strength of the Civil Rights Movement and under the mayoralty of Roy Hofheinz, city government decided to end a tradition of having an all White Fire Department. Ten Black men were selected to go through firefighter training along with 28 White men. Only nine of the Back men completed the Fire Training School. These men began their training on August 8, 1955, and completed it on September 20, 1955. The starting salary was $255.00 for Fire Cadets and after training the salary was $330.00 per month. The Class of 1955, was comprised of Clifford J. Thompson, Walter T. Brooks, Willie D. Cooper, Alpha O. Cravin, Milton C. Alford, Willie S. Bright, James A. Perry, Garnett C. Young and Samuel Kempt. These pioneering Black Firefighters were assigned to Station No.42, at 9525 Mascot now known as Clinton Drive, however, they were one man short to man the Station. In 1956, John Hayes, Jr., was hired to complete the ten man roster necessary to man this Station. These ten men worked at Station No.42 only with supervisory positions being held primarily by whites - a Captain and the next level of command, the Chauffeur. The White officer and Chauffeur slept in separate quarters from the Black Firefighters. Although there were separate sleeping and eating facilities, the White Firefighters and Black Firefighters at times would cook and eat meals together.
During these years, Black Firefighters could not fill in at White Stations. However, when the Captain or Chauffeur at Station No.42, was off and they were short of manpower, a White pipe and ladderman was sent to fill in and act as the Captain or Chauffeur at Station No.42 for that tour of duty.
In training school, these men encountered no ribbing from White Firefighters. They were treated with a sense of fairness and friendship by their instructors and other members of their cadet class. The only negative during training was the air pack drills. Blacks were not allowed to use the same air pack that whites were using. Although, Fire Chief Joe Lobue made it clear he wouldn't tolerate abuse of the Black Firefighters, off duty White Firefighters sometimes stopped by Station No.42, to harass the Black Firefighters. Promotion of Blacks was a no-no during these early years. For years Blacks were not told what books to study for promotional examinations.
The Second Wave
In 1958, the City of Houston annexed the Communities of South Union and Sunnyside, two densely populated Black areas. These Communities, similar to Clinton Park also had Volunteer Fire Stations and the City agreed to man these Stations with Black Firefighters. Twelve Black men were selected for the October 1958 Cadet Class. However, only eleven of these men completed the training. The Class of 1958 consisted of Aaron Bernard, Edward Jackson, Otis L. Burnes, Rudolph Cline, Harold L. Childress, Oliver Lewis, Jr., James Johnson Jr., James B. Hackney, August L. Griffin, Bricely E. Childress and John W. Glen. Firefighter Glen resigned after working only a short period of time. (and I can honestly say that I had the distinct pleasure to have worked with 7 of these men.)
These men experienced favorable treatment during cadet training as did the Class of '55. They were made to feel like they were a part of the team. The only incident having negative overtone was a statement made by an Assistant Chief as he greeted the class on the first day of school. The Assistant Chief said: "All you Blacks that have chips on your shoulder have come to a good place to get them knocked off".
The two Volunteer Fire Stations that the City took over were assigned Station No.46 and No.47. Station No.46 was located at 8117 Cornith in the Sunnyside addition. Station No.47 was located at 7401 Tiewrwester in the South Union addition. Station No.47 was manned by a regular crew of Black Firefighters under the supervision of a White Captain and a White Chauffeur. Station No.47 was a one man Fire Station manned by one Black firefighter. Although there was other one man Fire Stations in Houston, they were manned by White Chauffeurs. Station No.47 was manned by a Black Pipe and Ladderman with no compensation for riding in a high capacity. The two men assigned to Station No.47 were Walter T. Brooks and Garnett C. Young.
Black Firefighters, at this point in time, had three Fire Stations where they could work (Stations No.42, No.46 and No.47). These men had limited contact with White Firefighters with the exception of the Captain and Chauffeur assigned to their particular Station. Working conditions were fairly good considering rigid rules of segregation were a way of life in Houston, as well as the Fire Department. To illustrate this fact, the White Chauffeur did not stand night watch because there was only one bed to sleep in while on watch. White Firefighters were not allowed to ride on the back of the Fire Truck and Black Firefighters were not allowed to drive the fire truck at these Black Fire Stations. Whites assigned to Black Stations were often ribbed by other White Firefighters.
In 1959, two Black men were hired to replace the vacancies left by Mr. Glen's resignation and those who did not complete cadet training. In the June 1959 Class, Donald R. Crockett was hired. In the December 1959 Class, Wayman Cravin, Jr., was hired. Both of these men were assigned to Station No.42. These men increased the number of Black Firefighters to twenty-three.
In 1960, a new Station No.47 was built in Almeda Plaza for White firefighters. Old Station No.47 was re-assigned as Station No.54. The newly assigned Station No.54, just as old Station No.47 was still manned by Black Firefighters.
The Fire Department during those early years had a rigorous work schedule of 72 hours a week with a two shift system. In December 1962, the City Fathers reduced Firefighters hours to 56 hours a week with a three shift system. This change created many possible Chauffeur promotions for the 23 Black Firefighters in the Department. Thirteen of these men passed the examination and were promoted to Chauffeur. Otis L. Burnes hold the distinct honor of being the first Black to be promoted to Chauffeur. His new job duties charged him with the responsibilities of driving and operating the fire apparatus. The other Blacks promoted to chauffeur in January 1963 were: Walter T. Brooks, Milton C. Alford, Willie S. Bright, James A. Perry, Samuel Kempt, Aaron Bernard, Harold L. Childress, Rudolph Cline, Edward Jackson, II, Oliver Lewis, Jr., John Hayes, Jr., and Donald R. Crockett. These promotions were major accomplishments for these men because of the many discrepancies in the promotional system at that time.
The promotions of these men created a problem for the Fire Chief, since Blacks were only allowed to work at three Fire Stations. Considering that fact, there were only nine Chauffeur positions open to Blacks, three to each Station with one for each of the three shifts. To compensate for this discrepancy, a Booster Truck (914), was moved from Station No.35, an all White Station, to Station No.46 an all Black station. This, in addition to putting the last Black promoted on the Supply Truck working out of the Supply Depot on straight days was an attempt to create enough positions for the entire group of Black Chauffeurs.
With the promotion of these Chauffeurs there was a need to hire more Black Firefighters. In 1963, eighteen Black men were hired, nine started Cadet School in January and nine started school in May. The January class included: Charles A. Leonard, James P. Johnson, Jr., Sam E. Henely, Johnny L. Scott, Ruben L. Stubblefield, Victor E. Morton, Louis N. Hill, Paul L. Cline and Barron H. Johnson. The May class consisted of: Harold Alexander, Emmitt L. Bassett, John R. Branch, Robert W. Creeks, Sammie L. Hopkins, Sterling Jones, Robert L. Robinson, Francis X. Savoie and John H. Snider. This hiring increased the number of Black Firefighters to forty.
In October 1963, Station No.55, located at 11212 Cullen opened and old Station No.54 in South Union was closed. Black Firefighters assigned to Station No.54, along with the fire apparatus were moved to new Fire Station No.55. With all of these changes Blacks had only three Fire Stations were they could work. They were Stations No.42, No.46 and No.55.
In 1964, Lonnie Alexander and Melvin Grisby were the only Blacks hired. In 1965, five more Blacks, Herman Woolbright, James E. Cook, Roger L. Dansby, James A. Durham and Lee E. Newsome became Firefighters.
In 1965, the Houston Fire Department integrated two Fire Stations, Station No.1 and Station No.33. This was considered a very radical stance at that time. Blacks had been a part of the Houston Fire Department since 1955, but were always segregated from White Firefighters and placed in Black Fire Stations located in Black neighborhoods. This move, to commingle the races, was a gradual one with only three Blacks for each of the two Stations - one per shift. The six Black Firefighters to initiate this move were: at Station No.1, Lonnie Alexander, Herman Woolbright and James Cook, At Station No.33, Francis X. Savoie, Roger Dansby and Clifford Thompson.
Living conditions and the acceptance of these Black men at White Stations varied considerably. Some of these men were not included in meals that were cooked for everyone. When the Black firefighter came into a room where the whites were, everyone would leave the room. Racial slurs were common occurrences that Blacks had to endure. Tricks were played on some of these men that bordered on sabotage and almost caused bodily injury to some of them.
At one Station, the Captain assigned the Black firefighter a bed in the opposite corner of the dormitory away from all the White Firefighters. He asked the Captain why his bed was back in the corner. The Captain explained to him that he would be riding the truck and the sliding pole was near his bed. Three weeks later the Black firefighter was riding the Pumper and since the sliding pole for the pumper was across the room, he asked the Captain could he move his bed to be close to the pole. The Captain said to the man, "we are not going to rearrange the furniture".
Along with the integration of these Stations, Black Firefighters were allowed to fill-in at White Stations. When Blacks began to fill-in at White Stations, a new policy was established that everyone would have to carry their own sheets to sleep on.
This early group of Black Firefighters had to be special individuals to endure the many blatant prejudices they encountered. These men were mature, hard working, dedicated individuals with a determination to succeed and excel in an adverse situation and sometime hostile environment.
Another historical occurrence took place in December 1965, when Oliver Lewis, Jr., became the first Black to be promoted to the rank of Inspector. He was the first Black to obtain an officers' rank in the Houston Fire Department. Due to his promotion, Mr. Lewis worked in the Fire Prevention Division of the Fire Department. In this new position, he was no longer working in a Fire Station fighting fires. His job had changed from working shift work to working five eight hour days. This new job placed him in direct contact with White business owners and other white officers in the Fire Prevention Division. Mr. Lewis overcame many types of prejudices that he encountered in this new position.
Black Firefighters made great strides in the area of promotions in 1967. In May 1967, Harold L. Childress became the first Black promoted to the rank of Junior Captain. Captain Childress was placed in charge of a Black Fire Station where he supervised the men assigned to that Station. Other Blacks that were promoted to Junior Captain in 1967 were: Rudolph Cline, John Hayes, Otis Burnes and Willie Bright. These Black officers were also assigned to traditional Black Fire Stations. In this same year, Milton Alford, Edward Jackson and Donald Crockett were promoted to the rank of Inspector. To wrap up this fruitful year, Paul Clinie and Sterling Jones were promoted to Chauffeur, making a total of ten Blacks promoted in 1967. Five Black men were hired as firefighters in 1967.
Living conditions in 1967, for Blacks assigned to Black Fire Stations were fairly good. However, conditions manifested themselves openly during the time of fill-ins at White Stations were prejudices were more evident. Blacks who were assigned to White Stations had to listen to racist remarks and accept a general feeling of "you-should-be-grateful-that-things-are-not-any-worse-for-you.
In 1968, following several incidents o racial unrest and the death of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Fire and City Officials made personnel policy changes that sent three Black Junior Captains to Fire Stations with predominately White crews. These Captains were assigned to traditional White Fire Stations in charge of White Firefighters. This was the first time in the Houston Fire Department that Black officers were allowed to work at all White Fire Stations. The Blacks involved in this transition were transferred to the following Stations: Station No.25 was Captain Rudolph Cline, Station No.2 was Captain Harold Childress and Station No.60 was Captain Willie Bright.
Eighteen Black Firefighters graduated from Fire Cadet School in 1968. Detroit Woolbright, a member of Cadet Class '68-E, holds the distinct honor of being the first Black to graduate from Training School with the highest overall grade average during training. There were only five Blacks promoted in 1968. Emmitt Bassett, Harold Alexander, John Snider, Robert Creeks and Lonnie Alexander were promoted to the rank of Chauffeur.
In January 1969, another Black firefighter pioneered a new area of the Fire Department. Sterling Jones became the first Black Investigator in the Houston Fire Department. Jones worked in the Arson Division where he investigated arson fires. Later on in the years James A Perry was promoted to Investigator. Jones and Perry were the only Blacks in the Arson Division. Perry resigned from the Department in 1970.
In 1969 eight Blacks were promoted to the rank of Chauffeur. They were Ruben Stubbelefield, Victor Morton, Charles Leonard, John Branch, Sammie L. Hopkins, Francis X. Savoie, Roger Dansby and Herman Woolbright. Fifteen Blacks were hired as Firefighters. in 1969.
In December 1970, Paul L. Cline was promoted to Investigator and joined Sterling Jones in the Arson Division. Cline was the only Black firefighter to earn a promotion to any rank in 1970. This also proved to be an unproductive year for hiring Black firefighters as compared to previous years. In the entire year of 1970, only four Blacks were hired.
The Houston Fire Department began providing Emergency Ambulance Service for Houston on April 10, 1971. Firefighters were asked to volunteer for the ambulance program and a large number of Black Firefighters volunteered. Black Firefighters have been an intricate part in the development and improvement of Houston's Emergency Ambulance Service into one of the most respected Emergency Medical Service Systems in the Nation. Numerous Black paramedics and E.M.T.'s have received letters of commendation from citizens for their meritorious service to the Community.
In 1971, six Blacks were hires as Firefighters and one Black firefighter, Lee Newsome was promoted to the rank of Chauffeur. By the end of 1971, Black Firefighters had made in-roads into the Fire Prevention and Arson Division and approximately 25 Fire Stations had one or more Black Firefighters working in them with Station No.55 having the largest number of Blacks assigned to it. Stations No.42 and No.46 were still considered Black Fire Stations with a large number of Blacks working at these Stations.
The year of 1972, was very prosperous for Black Firefighters in terms of promotional advancement. Twenty-one Blacks were promoted to the rank of Chauffeur. They were: James Johnson, Jr., Clifford J. Thompson, Louis N. Hill, James P. Johnson, Jr., Otis Latin, Glen Morris, John Robinson, Claude Harris, Earnest L. Punch, Roy C. Sims, Oscar Wallace, Jr., David Hopkins, Frederick Moore, Willie Braxton, T.C. Shields, Louis Moore, Daniel Whiting, Detroit Woolbright, Otis Owens, Jessie Harris, and Ruel Hampton. This was the largest number of Chauffeur promotions for Blacks since 1963. Roger Dansby and Herman Woolbright were promoted to Junior Captain, and Walter Brooks was promoted to Inspector.
In 1972, another major obstacle was surpassed. During this year, Otis Burns, Harold Childress and John Hayes, Jr., were promoted to the rank of Senior Captain to become the highest raking Black officers in the Houston Fire Department. They were assigned to Station No.55, one for each of the three shifts. Station No.55 was traditionally a Black Fire Station, however, a few White Firefighters had started being assigned there as well as to the other two Black Stations. But the majority of the Firefighters assigned to these Stations were Black.
In November 1973, a lawsuit was filed titled: Reginald Tarver, et al., Plaintiffs vs. City of Houston, et al.., Defendants. The lawsuit had its beginning when Reginald Tarver, a Black could not get a job with the Houston Fire Department. Having tried and failed to land a job with the Fire Department in 1970, 1971, 1972, and 1973. Tarver and some other Blacks filed a class action lawsuit against the City of Houston. They alleged discriminatory hiring practices in the Fire and Police Department. In 1973, the year Tarver filed his suit, there were 2,250 Firefighters in the Houston Fire Department, approximately 105 were Blacks. This was a small percentage of Black Firefighters considering the total number of Firefighters and the ethnic makeup of the City of Houston.
From 1973 until 1978, the lawsuit languished in a legal labyrinth. This lawsuit, although it was not settled in 1973, was instrumental in changing hiring policies in the Fire Department. During the administration of Mayor Fred Hofheinz, hiring policies were changed and more Blacks were allowed to enter the Fire Department. Seventeen Blacks were hired as Firefighters in 1973.
During 1973, four Blacks were promoted to Chauffeur. They were Gerald Julian, Arthur Butler, James Durham and Johnny Scott. Lonnie Alexander was promoted to Junior Captain and Detroit Woolbright was promoted to Inspector.
In 1973, Station life for Blacks had changed; more Blacks were assigned to the traditionally White Fire Stations. Still there were different types of prejudices in these Stations. For example: one Black firefighter knew his territory better than any of the white Firefighters but the Captain would not allow the Black firefighter to drive the fire apparatus.
Reginald Tarver was hired by the Houston Fire Department on July 29, 1974, eight months after he filed his lawsuit. He was a member of Cadet Class 74-D and completed training along with six other Black Firefighters. Upon completion of Cadet School, Tarver was assigned to Station No.48, an all White station, where he worked diligently fighting fires and serving the citizens of Houston.
In 1974, another milestone was recorded in the plight of blacks in the Fire department. Paul Cline, Louis McKinney and Rudolph Cline were assigned to the Recruiting Division to actively recruit blacks for the Fire Department. This move was directly related to the Tarver lawsuit and indirectly related to the Ross lawsuit. Fire officials were attempting to stay a step ahead of what the Tarver suit would require. It was becoming more evident that the Ross suit would promote a black into a rank that all available positions for blacks were filled. Therefore, Rudolph Cline was sent to Recruiting and as a result of the Ross suit he was promoted to Senior Captain and given back pay and seniority. The change in hiring policies for the Fire Department could be seen in the large number of black firefighters hired in 1974. Thirty-seven blacks completed Fire Cadet School and were hired as firefighters in 1974.
In 1974, James Tyron, Charles Julian, Oliver Lewis and Arthur Tone were promoted to Chauffeur. In this same year, Otis Latin, Lee Newsome and Ruben Stubblefield were promoted to Junior Captain. Francis X. Savoie must be recognized for being the first black to place number one on any promotional examination. Savoie and Theodore Hill were promoted to Inspector in 1974. Harold Alexander was promoted to Investigator. Sterling Jones and Paul Cline became the first blacks promoted to Senior Investigator making a total of twelve blacks promoted in 1974.
In 1975 Rudolph Cline was promoted to Senior Captain and placed in charge of the Recruiting Division. In this position, Cline was able to establish recruiting policies and procedures that were fair and equitable to blacks, whites and Hispanics attempting to enter the Houston Fire Department. Cline is credited with developing the first comprehensive active recruiting program dealing with predominately minority high schools, colleges and community organizations. Louis McKinney, under the auspices of the IAFF Department of Labor and sponsored by the Houston Firefighters Local 341, operated a Community Outreach Labor Recruitment Program for the Houston Fire Department. McKinney, along with Faleigh Murphy, Jason Perry and Roy Emanuel were very active in the recruitment and preparations of blacks to enter Fire Cadet School. This program, along with some of the other programs and policy changes gave blacks an opportunity to enter the Fire Service in large numbers.
Three other blacks were promoted in 1975. Charles Leonard and Jessie Harris were promoted to Inspector. Aaron Bernard was promoted to Junior Captain.
In 1975, thirty-four blacks were hired as firefighters. Two years after the Tarver lawsuit, a total of seventy-one black firefighters had been hired into the Houston Fire Department. Prior to 1974, there were approximately 123 back firefighters in the Houston Fire Department.
Donald W. Haynes, a member of Cadet Class 75-B, holds the prestigious honor of being the first black chosen as President of a Fire Cadet Class. This was indeed an honor because Haynes was chosen by his peers who were all white except for himself and two other blacks.
Clifford J. Thompson was the first black firefighter assigned to the Fire Training Academy. In March 1975, Thompson became the first black Training Instructor assigned to the Training Division.
On January 14, 1976, August L. Griffin became the first black firefighter to retire after seventeen years of service on a disability pension. Clifford J. Thompson also retires after twenty-one years of service on November 3, 1976.
Raymond Robertson and Stanley Curtis were promoted to Chauffeur in 1976. Gerald Julian was promoted to Junior Captain and Johnny L. Scott was promoted to Investigator.
In 1976, Stalney Curtis won the Chief Little Scholar Award given to the firefighter having the highest college grade average for a year. Curtis' grade average was 99.8 percent in 1976.
James Young, a black firefighter assigned to Station No.8, made history when he took a leave-of-absence from the Houston Fire Department in June 1976, to try-out for the Washington Redskins Football Team. The Washington Redskins offered Young a contract but they wanted him to play fullback. The only problem was that Young had never been trained for that position. He thought he would be trying-out for a defensive linesman position. Washington cut Young in the early weeks of training camp. Young returned to the Houston Fire Department where he fought fires for the City of Houston.
In July 1977, James Young used accumulated vacation time for another leave-of-absence to report to the Houston Oiler's Training Camp. This time Young earned a starting job at left end on the Oiler's defensive line with All-Pros Curley Culp and Elvin Bethea. Young played football for the Oilers and worked the off-season for the Houston Fire Department. After a few years, his career was cut short due to an injury and he returned to the Fire Service full-time.
In July 1977, Rudolph Cline became the Fire Department's first black District Chief. But, he remained assigned to the Recruiting Division where he worked until July 1986. Otis Burns and Harold Childress were also promoted to District Chief in 1977. Burns and Childress were placed in charge of Fire Suppression Districts. They became the first Black officers to be in charge of, and command, firefighting operations at the District Chief level.
Roger Dansby, along with several other blacks took an examination in 1977, for the position of Senior Captain. Dansby became the first black firefighter to place number one on a Senior Captain's examination. Roger Dansby, Ruben Stubblefield, Herman Woolbright, Lonnie Alexander and Otis Latin were promoted to Senior Captain in 1977.
In January 1977, Detroit Woolbright was promoted to Senior Inspector and became the first black to attain that position in Fire Prevention.
Twenty-four blacks were promoted in 1977. This was a very good year for black firefighters. James Tyron and Charles Julian were promoted to Junior Captain. Fred Moore and Otis Owens were promoted to Investigator. Oliver Lewis, Arthur Butler, Arthur Tone, Claude Harris and Earnest Punch were promoted to Inspector. Lee Island, Jim Legington, Everett Harkles, Nauther Woods, Thomas Patterson and Darryl Lamott were promoted to Chauffeur. Thirty blacks were hired as firefighters in 1977.
John Hayes, Jr., became the third black firefighter to retire. He retired on March 17, 1977.
In 1977, James Johnson, Jr., was honored by the Exchange Club of Houston as The Outstanding Paramedic of the Year. Johnson received this award at the Annual Houston Fire Department Awards Luncheon sponsored by the Exchange Club.
Tarver and the City of Houston arrived at a Consent Decree in 1978. The Fire Department already had changed it's hiring policies to bring in more blacks. In the Consent Decree, it was agreed that the Fire Department had begun serious efforts to change their hiring policies and the lawsuit was not pursued. But the Consent Decree pinpointed various hiring practices and how they should be carried out to meet different hiring standards. It related many hiring a qualification that had contributed to discrimination. These covered everything from credit rating to common-law relationships.
In 1978, seven blacks were promoted to rank of Chauffeur. They were Larry Spann, Barry Schoffield, Elmo Flanagan, Wayne Oliver, Christopher Southern, Harry Pruitt and Sam Henley. Louis Moore was promoted to the rank of Junior Captain, Lee Newsome was promoted to the rank of Senior Captain, Robert Creeks was promoted to the rank of Inspector. A total of ten blacks were promoted in 1978. Fifty-two blacks were hired as firefighters. In October 1978, Emmitt L. Bassett retired from the Fire Department on disability pension after fifteen years of service.
In August 1978, the first black officer was assigned to the Fire Training Academy. This assignment can be attributed indirectly to the Tarver lawsuit. Otis Latin, a black Senior Captain requested this assignment several months prior but was not given the assignment until the City of Houston and Tarver arrived at a Consent Decree this case before U.S. District Judge Ross Sterling. Latin's assignment allowed him an opportunity to train new Fire Cadets as well as veteran firefighters. Even at this late date, another milestone for black firefighters had been reached.
In 1978, James Johnson, Jr., became the first black Chauffeur-Paramedic allowed to act in the higher capacity of Ambulance Supervisor. When the regular assigned Junior Captain -Ambulance Supervisor was absent from duty, a Chauffeur-Paramedic would act in his position. Although there were several black Chauffeur-Paramedics, they were not allowed to act as Ambulance Supervisors.
By the end of 1979, evidence of the Tarver lawsuit could be seen in the Department. Ninety-eight black men were hired as firefighters. From 1975, when the lawsuit was filed to the end of 1979, a total of 218 blacks were hired into the Department. This nearly doubled the number of blacks in the Department prior to the Tarver lawsuit.
With the large number of blacks entering the Fire Department, more blacks were selected as class president by their peers. Thomas Ward, Fred Witchet, Wallace Landry and Harold Phillips were selected as president of their respective class in 1979. Prior to this year, only one black had been chosen as class president.
Fourteen blacks were promoted in 1979. Nathaniel Johnson, General Johnson, David Norris, Larry Lewis, Pastor Drones, Melvin Grisby and James Cook were promoted to Chauffeur. Gerald Julian was promoted to Senior Captain. Everett Harkles and Arthur Butler were promoted to Investigator. Chester Price and Raleigh Murphy were promoted to Inspector. Theodore Hill was promoted to Senior Inspector. Otis Latin was promoted to District Chief Training Officer. Furthermore, he was the only black to place number one on the District Chief Test. Latin became one of the youngest firefighters to attain the rank of District Chief. He was promoted to Chief approximately one month after his 30th birthday. This was the first time in the history of the Houston Fire Department; a black was promoted through the ranks to District Chief in a time span of ten years.
Three firefighters retired in 1979. Oliver Lewis retired in January and Aaron Bernard retired in February after twenty-one years of service. Garnett Young retired in January after twenty-four years with the Fire Department.
Black firefighters began to express a need for some type of organization where they could feel more a part of the Fire Department and be actively involved in their union.
The idea of a Black Firefighters Caucus first appeared in the early part of February 1980. It was Congressman Mickey Leland and County Commissioner El Franco Lee who first suggested a Black Firefighters Caucus. El Franco Lee, during those years was a State Representative. He was very active with the early organizers of the Caucus.
The Caucus was perceived as a great idea by the majority of black firefighters. As with any new organization, there were many stumbling blocks to overcome.
It became necessary to change Local 341 By-Laws in order for the Caucus to operate under the auspices of the Union. In November 1980, a By-Law change was passed by the membership where 100 members in good-standing could petition the President of the union to be recognized as a Caucus. Another requirement was that caucus By-Laws not conflict with Local 341 By-Laws. A By-Law Committee was created for that purpose. The black firefighters who worked on that committee were: Charles H. Julian, Lee Newsome, Pastor Drones, Jim Legington, Lee Island, Fred Moore, Kenneth Malone, Harold Prevost, Joey Reed, Joe Davis, Lester Landry, Stanley Curtis, Detroit Woolbright, Reginald Tarver, Donald Haynes, Kenneth Robinett, Raylond Robinson, Jeffrey Cook, Steven Thomas, Otis Latin and Rudolph Cline.
Charles Julian aided by Jim Legington wrote fourteen objectives for the Caucus. Julian also created and wrote the procedures for the Advisory Board for the Black Firefighters Caucus.
In 1980, eleven blacks were promoted. Samuel Johnson, Donald Haynes, Nathaniel Southern, Bollie McShan, Columbus Adams, Elijah Criswell, Jeffery Cook and Eugene Wiley were promoted to Chauffeur, and Oliver Lewis was promoted to Senior Inspector. Charles Julian was promoted to Senior Captain. Thomas Patterson became the first black promoted to Junior Dispatcher.
This was a good year for hiring black firefighters. Fifty-eight blacks were hired in 1980. Donald Crockett retired after twenty years of service with the Department.
In February 1981, the Caucus Committee completed the work necessary to organize the Caucus. Two days before the petition was presented to the President of the Union, infighting came to the surface. Some of the members wanted a separate Union and did not want to be involved with the Caucus and Local 341. There were heated arguments and in effect the long awaited and anticipated Caucus was dissolved.
In 1981, two blacks placed number one and number two on the promotional examination for chauffeur. This was the first time for any blacks to accomplish this feat. Herbert Sims placed number one and Carter Green placed number two. Other Chauffeurs promoted during the year were: Alvin White, Marvin McElroy, Leo Adams, Glen Gonzales, Roy Emanuel and Howard Shaw. Barry Schoffield was promoted to Inspector. Jessie Harris and Claude Harris were promoted to Senior Inspector. Thomas Patterson was promoted to Senior Dispatcher and became the first black to attain that rank. Detroit Woolbright became the first black Chief Inspector when he was promoted in 1981. There were forty-three blacks hired as firefighters in 1981.
On June 23, 1982, a group of ten black firefighters held a meeting at the Houston Community College Dunlevy Campus. This meeting was held to reorganize and activate the Black Firefighters Caucus Committee. The firefighters attending this meeting were: Charles Jullian, Kenneth Malone, Ulyses Armstrong, Harold Prevost, Charles Ingram, Kenneth Robinett, Leslie Busby, Joseph M. Williams, Thomas Patterson and Alfred Taylor.
At this meeting, Charles Julian presented all of the previous material that was collected by the past committee. Julian outlined and presented the remaining steps that would be necessary to complete the information and recognition of the Caucus.
Interim Officers were elected by the Committee. Kenneth Malone was voted as Interim President. Harold Prevost was voted as first Vice President. Ulysses Armstrong was voted as Recording Secretary. The officers and members of the Committee would not be denied their dream of a Black Firefighters Caucus.
On July 1, 1982, seven days after the first Committee meeting, the Black Firefighters Caucus was recognized by President Lester Tyra, as a viable part of Local 341.
On a July 27 and 28, 1982, Caucus elections were held. Herbert Sims was elected as President. The other officers elected were: Donald Haynes, First Vice President; Fred Moore, Second Vice President; Stanley Mouton and Samuel Aubrey, Secretaries; Reginald Tarvery and Jim Legington, Financial Secretaries; James Young, Oscar Franklin and Elmo Delasbour, Sergeant-at-Arms; Larry Britt, Lee Island and Johnny Scott as Trustees.
One day before the Caucus elections a tragic thing happened. Interim President, Kenneth Malone died of a heart attack. Malone did not get a chance to see the fruits of his labor but he was voted President Emeritus of the Black Firefighters Caucus. No black firefighter had died, whether active or retired prior to his death.
In 1982, thirty-six black firefighters were hired. Included in this group of firefighters was the first black woman firefighter. She became the second woman firefighter in the Houston Fire Department. On June 28, 1982, Arands Madison Smith began Fire School as a member of Cadet Class 82-B. After successfully completing training, Miss Smith was assigned to Station 69-A. There she worked diligently performing her firefighting duties until she transferred to Station 75-A. There were many problems to overcome as a result of Miss Smith's being assigned to a Fire Station. The male firefighters had to adjust to having a woman in their Fire Station. She had to prove that she could do the demanding work of being a firefighter and carry her share of the load. Being a woman and black, did not make things easy for her. There were many stumbling blocks placed in her path but she overcame them all.
Six blacks were promoted to Chauffeur in 1982. They were: Hillary Bell, Dan Castilow, Samuel Hamilton, Larry Britt, George Runnels and Leroy Thomas. Donald Haynes, Lee Island, Glenn Morris and John Snider were promoted to Inspector. General Lee Johnson, Darryl Lamott and Arthur Tone were promoted to Investigator. Stanley Curtis was promoted to Junior Dispatcher.
Barron H. Johnson retired from the Fire Service on a disability pension, September 3, 1982.
In May 1983, the first Houston Firefighter Black Appreciation Awards Program highlighting the visibility of black firefighters in the Black Community was coordinated by Shelton Morris and Kenneth D. Robinett. Congressman Mickey Leland was honored with the prestigious Kenneth L. Malone Award. Miss Barbara Jordan received the Humanitarian Award and Mrs. Ethel Porter of Channel 2 received the MDA Award.
The 80's also broght Houston's first and only Black Fire Safety Radio Program on KTSU called "Inferno". Arands Madison Smith was featured in the first Public Service Announcement highlighting Houston's only black female firefighter. It was produced and shown on every major Television Station.
In January 1983, the Houston Black Firefighter Caucus sponsored a Scholarship Ball. The program was designed to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and establish a scholarship fund for minority high school seniors. The keynote speaker was Congressman Mickey Leland. Charles Julian must be recognized for organizing this gayla affair.
Kenneth Robinett, one of the black firefighters who helped organize the Black Firefighters Caucus died on October 9, 1983. He thus became only the second black firefighter to die.
In 1983, twenty-seven blacks were hired as firefighters. Louis N. Hill retired from the Fire Service on April 4, 1983. Daniel Jefferson, Willie Rogers and John Flanagan were promoted to Chauffeur. Eugene Wiley and Elmo Flanagan were promoted to Inspector.
In 1984, tragedy struck black firefighters. Three black firefighters died during this year. Jeffery Cook died on June 14, 1984. Roy C. Simes died on August 24, 1984. John R. Branch died on October 12, 1984. This group of men brought the total number of deaths to five in the short twenty-nine year history of black firefighters.
A federal jury rejected a claim by two black Arson Investigators that they were passed over for promotion to Senior Investigator because of discrimination against blacks in the Houston Fire Department. Johnny Lee Scott and Frederick Van Moore filed a lawsuit in 1980. The lawsuit was tried and ruled on in 1984.
Scott and Moore contended that former Chief V.E. Rogers manipulated the promotion lists to keep them from being promoted to supervisors. Rogers testified at the trial in U.S. District Judge Carl Bue's Court, denying that politics or racism ever played a part in promotions during this administration. He pointed to his active recruitment of blacks as evidence of his good faith.
In 1984, Mayor Kathy Whitmire made history when she included in a list of fifteen candidates for the Fire Chief's job, the names of two black firefighters. Otis Latin and Rudolph Cline, both District chiefs were interviewed by the Mayor and her administrative recruiters for the position of Fire Chief of the City of Houston. This was the first time in the history of the Houston Fire Department that any black had been considered for a job of that magnitude.
Eighteen blacks were hired as firefighters in 1984. Wayne L. Hollins, a member of Cadet Class 84-A, was selected as President of his class. Only two blacks were promoted in 1984. Roosevelt Johnson was promoted to Chauffeur. Charles Julian was promoted to District Chief.
In November 1984, Otis Latin was elected first Vice President of the Firefighters union. He became the second black elected as Vice President by the largely white Firefighters Union. Louis McKinney was the first black elected Vice President of Local 341. Raleigh Murphy, Jim Legington, Rudolph Cline and Jimmy Carrol are other black firefighters that ware elected or appointed as officers of the Union.
In 1985, fourteen black firefighters were hired. Four blacks were promoted during the year. Samuel Thompson and Donald Mangum were promoted to Chauffeur. Samuel Johnson was promoted t Inspector. Donald Haynes was promoted to Investigator. Barron H. Johnson, a returned black firefighter died in July 1985.
Black firefighters have made great strives since 1955, but there is still a long way to go to reach their goal. Blacks are now assigned to all Divisions within the Department and have made rank relatively well. But the advances have not been rapid enough or in large enough numbers.
As of 1986, the number of black firefighters has grown to 495, but there is still only one black woman firefighter. There are approximately 3,187 firefighters in the Houston Fire Department.
On January 2, 1986, Rudolph Cline retired after twenty-seven years with the Houston Fire Department. Cline was Houston's first black District Chief and one of the early pioneers in the department. His many accomplishments will inspire young black firefighters to be the best that the can be.
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