June 28, 1911: Samuel Battle became the first black person appointed to the New York City police force.
The battle would go on to become the first black sergeant, in 1926; the 1st black lieutenant, in 1935; and the city’s 1st black parole commissioner, in 1941.
After attending segregated schools in North Carolina, Battle moved north to Connecticut, and later to New York City. He took a job as a train porter and began studying for the New York City Police Department civil service exam.
His brother-in-law was Patrolman Moses P. Cobb, who started working for the Brooklyn Police force in the early 1890s was his mentor.
In 1911, the city’s population was about 2 percent black. He joined the force and was sworn in on March 6, 1911. Battle was assigned first to San Juan Hill, the neighborhood where Lincoln Center is today, which preceded Harlem as one of the key African-American neighborhoods. He was soon moved to Harlem, as the African-American population there was growing.
“Big Sam” as he was known — 6’3, 280 pounds — earned the respect of his fellow officers after saving one officer’s life in the early 1920s. They subsequently voted to allow him into the Sergeant’s Academy.
As the NYPD’s first black Lieutenant, during the intense Harlem Riots of 1935, he circulated fliers of himself with the young boy smiling who had allegedly been murdered in the basement of the Kress Department store.
In 1941, Battle began work as a parole commissioner, working with delinquent youths in Harlem. He initiated rehabilitation programs for Harlem’s youth as well, such as summer camps and sports activities.
During a 1943 race riot, triggered by the shooting of an African-American suspect by a white police officer, Battle, at the request of New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia, was called in to quell the Harlem area where the riot erupted.
Battle retired as parole commissioner in 1951 but remained active in community activities for the Harlem area.
In 2009, the 135th and Lenox Avenue intersection in New York City was named after him.
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