(Memphis) They are trailblazers.
Melvin Burgess, William Cox, Herman Seaborn and Harold Peterson and others all made history 51 years ago today.
Burgess and several other African-Americans joined the Memphis Police Department on March 12, 1962 and he would eventually head the MPD in the early 1990s.
“We decided to get together and talk about some of the things we went through. We cried back then, Burgess said.
Burgess and several retired captains gathered at the Gay Hawk restaurant today. They helped desegregate the Memphis Police Department. Captain Jerry Williams was also there. He joined the force in 1948, the year the first African-Americans were hired.
William N. Cox is a retired police captain. He remembers what life was like for him and other black officers.
“We were told in the academy, by the inspector, he said they don’t want you here being and talking about blacks,” Cox said.
It was a difficult time.
“If we made calls to a white business establishments they would always says no, send me a white officer,” Burgess said.
“Some in the black community would say I want the white police out here because y’all can’t do anything, anyway,” Cox said.
Harold Peterson is a retired captain who was also hired on this day in 1962.
“No position of authority. Even though you made sergeant that was not a position where you had other people working for you,” Peterson said.
The racism on the police force and in the community ran deep and many considered quitting the force.
“We all had children. What could we do but do what they say do and smile at it and keep going,” Burgess said.
But years later, they say things got better when more African-Americans came on the force, rose through the ranks and a few have been appointed police director in a city they say once only saw things in black and white.
“Overall, I think we’re doing good things,” Burgess said.