NEW YORK — 100 years ago Tuesday, the New York Police Department welcomed its first Black officer, Samuel Jesse Battle, championing color barriers and becoming the first Black sergeant and lieutenant.
However, at 6-foot-2, 240 pounds, Battle faced racial opposition. Though he scored high enough for an appointment with the police department, upon showing up for his physical, he was obscurely diagnosed with a disqualifying heart murmur.
Battle, the son of freed slaves, sought a second opinion from a top white physician, who found that, contrary to previous diagnosis, he was in excellent health condition. Through pressure from Black activists, the NYPD swore-in Battle on June 28, 1911.
Battle faced further opposition from fellow officers and, because of his immense size, was treated like “an exotic zoo animal” by the public, according to The NY Daily News. In September 1919, Battle saved a fellow officer, who was white, from a group of Black rioters, warranting much-desired respect from the force. He was appointed to patrol commission and retired in 1950. By that year, Battle was followed by 576 Black officers, forever solidifying himself as a formidable figure in the city’s history.