By Bill Cunnigham
In the wake of Black History Month, it is not only important that we discuss the prominent African Americans but also the “unknown’ African Americans that have helped paved the way for others to succeed today, like Retired Lieutenant John White who was one of the first black Police Officers on the Savannah Police Department.
By caring that heavy burden of being one of the first
African Americans, Lieutenant John White, who was one of the “First Nine Black
Officers” to be employed by the Savannah Police Department in 1947. HIS ACT AND STRUGGLES paved the way for so
many other blacks both male and female.
interview in February 17, 2010, with Savannah Morning News, “Lt. White
reflected on his days patrolling a city where the color of one’s skin dictated
what level of justice one would apply”.
(photo by Savannah Morning News)
In Atlanta, Georgia, Claude Dixon, one of the first eight black police officers appointed to serve in 1948 said, “When we took our oath, all of us had to stand up there and say, -“I do solemnly swear as nigger policemen that I will uphold the segregation laws of the City of Atlanta.”
(photo by unknown)
Said statement was countered by Former Police Chief Herbert Jenkins of Atlanta, who stated the following: “Black police officers were not required to take an oath any different from that of the white officers”.
However, did you know that black police officers throughout the country were not allowed to arrest white no matter what crime thy committed? The officers had to hold the white criminal until a white officer arrived to make the arrest. This continued until the 1960s. Savannah is one of the oldest black community and through the hardships of slavery, “Jim Crow Laws” and the fight for civil rights, “colored people” as they referred as at that time, founded their own churches, schools and communities in the City of Savannah.
As I mentioned above, Lt. White is one of the original nine officers hired by the Savannah Georgia Police department, and is now the last surviving member of the “Original Nine” who still resides in the City of Savannah. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting him and the opportunity to talk with him about his experiences on the Police Department Lt. White explained to me that when he was hired, he was trained in secret, once the training was completed and he was sworn, it was stipulated that the black officers were forbidden to arrest any white criminals.
He further explained the hardships he encountered as a black officer in this city during the 1950s. He recalled the fact that all white officers had patrol vehicles while the black officers had to walk even during the cold winter.
Lt. White shared with me a particular experience when two white police officers had to give him a ride to headquarters and once he was out of the vehicle, the vehicle was taken to have the inside of it cleaned out because he had been in it. The gut wrenching feeling he experienced at that particular moment cannot be described, He said, these were officers he knew, officers he worked with and smiled at him, laughed and joked with him but felt he was dirty and not fit to sit in back of their patrol car, merely because of the color of his skin.
(photo by Savannah Morning News)