Today we salute Samuel Battle (1883-1966), a true trailblazer, the first Black police officer to join the NYPD on June 28, 1911. During his stellar career, he became the NYPD’s first Black Lieutenant, later heading one of the NYPD’s first SWAT teams. A force for good, Battle was assigned to the growing Harlem community and frequently helped ease the tensions between NYPD officers and the Black community. The intersection of 135th and Lenox Avenue in NYC was named after him– it’s the site where Officer Battle saved the life of a fellow (white) officer.
Officer Battle played a key role in integrating the NYPD, but encountered fierce resistance along the way.
“Sometimes, lying on my cot on the top floor, in the silence, I would wonder how it was that many of the patrolmen in my precinct who did not yet speak English well, had no such difficulties in getting on the police force as I, a Negro American, had experienced…My name had been passed over repeatedly. All sorts of discouragements had been placed in my path. And now, after a long wait and a lot of stalling, I had finally been given a trial appointment to their ranks and these men would not speak to me. Native-born and foreign-born whites on the police force all united in looking past me as though I were not a human being. In the loft in the dark, with the Stars and Stripes, I wondered! Why?”
“It had to be an incredible battle,” said NYPD Deputy Inspector Kevin Catalina. “He had to endure all sorts of feelings toward him. He was an inspiring man.”