Samuel Battle was born January 16, 1883, in New Bern, North Carolina. Much of his early life isn’t known outside of him moving to New York City to work in the growing railroad industry as a porter.
Early Law Enforcement Career
His brother-in-law, Moses P. Cobb had been an officer in the Brooklyn police department in the late 1890s. Cobb trained Samuel Battle who entered the academy on January 16, 1911. Successful during his training, he was sworn in on March 6, 1911, making him New York City’s first Black officer.
Battle stood out among off the officers. As a big 6’3, 280-pound southerner, he was given the nickname “Big Sam.” His early years were spent patrolling the San Juan Hill neighborhood in Manhattan. After the Lincoln Center was built as part of the city’s urban renewal project, Samuel Battle was assigned to Harlem.
He was known to take his job seriously and always came to the aid of fellow officers, earning his respect on the force. After being voted into the Sergeant’s Academy, he would become the first Black police sergeant in 1926. Battle served in the position until 1935 when he was promoted to lieutenant.
His promotion came just as the Harlem Riots erupted that March. He handled damage control in the neighborhood and made an effort to strengthen the department’s relationship with the Black community.
Battle was promoted to parole commissioner in 1941, bringing him in contact with Harlem’s delinquents. He took to his role and established summer camps, sports groups, and rehabilitation programs. Two years later, another race riot erupted following a white NYPD officer shooting a Black suspect. Battle was called in by the mayor to do damage control once again. He managed to placate Harlem residents by playing to a respect for President Lincoln.
He retired in 1951 and continued his work with the Harlem neighborhood. Samuel Battle would pass away on August 7, 1966. He wouldn’t be honored until years later when New York City named the 135th and Lenox Avenue intersection after him in 2009.