Recognizing the 60Th Year of Desegregation of the City of Memphis Fire Departmentby Representative Steve Cohen
Posted on 2015-12-15
in the house of representatives
Tuesday, December 15, 2015
Mr. COHEN. Mr. Speaker, I rise today to recognize the 60th year of
desegregation of the City of Memphis Fire Department. On July 11, 1955,
twelve African American men were recruited to join the Memphis Fire
Department and were assigned to Fire Station No. 8 located at E.H.
Crump and Mississippi Boulevards. They were: Robert Crawford; Carl
Stotts; Floyd Newsum; Norvell Wallace; George Dumas; John Copper;
William Carter; Leon Parsons; Richard Burns; Lawrence Yates; Leroy
Johnson; and Murray Pugues. Like many African Americans who worked to
break the barriers erected by Jim Crow era laws, there were many
challenges to being the first to integrate the fire department, but
their love for the city of Memphis and desire to keep citizens safe
from harm helped them to overcome the challenges with the highest
levels of determination and professionalism.
For many years following integration, racial differences dictated how African American firefighters responded to fires. In his book ``Black Fire: Portrait of a Black Memphis Firefighter,'' Robert Crawford recalled how the twelve men were required to wait outside homes belonging to white residents until after the Captain inspected the home to ensure any woman present was appropriately dressed. When responding to fires at residences belonging to African Americans, the twelve were allowed to enter and investigate alongside their white colleagues. Crawford also recounted the challenges he and others faced when working with firefighters from other firehouses around the city, obtaining information on fighting fires and in being considered for promotions.
Fire Station No. 8 became well-known for its crews' perseverance, work ethic and bravery in the line of duty. Over time, other fire companies became open to working with the men, which led to the full integration of the Memphis Fire Department. This was, however, not without resistance from some within the department who were opposed to such change, even into the 1980s when some of the twelve men had been promoted to high ranks. By the time of their retirements, they had achieved the ranks of: Robert Crawford--Deputy Director of the Memphis Fire Department; Carl Stotts--Deputy Chief; Floyd Newsum--Division Chief; Norvell Wallace--Assistant Fire Marshal; George Dumas--Battalion Commander; John Copper--Captain; William Carter--Fire Inspector; Leon Parsons--Lieutenant; Richard Burns--Private; and Lawrence Yates-- Private. Sixty years later, the Memphis Fire Department remains integrated and three African Americans have held the highest position of Director, including Alvin Benson who now serves as the Chief of the Shelby County Fire Department.
Mr. Speaker, these twelve men are a part of Memphis history. They are honored with an exhibit at the Fire Museum of Memphis and they have a place in the hearts of the citizens of Memphis. Now, they will be honored and remembered in the United States Congressional Record. I ask all of my colleagues to join me in recognizing the 60th year of desegregation of the Memphis Fire Department.