Apr 3, 2023 - News

Honoring Atlanta's first Black police officers

8 Black APD officers in 1948

From left, front: Henry Hooks, Claude Dixon, Ernest H. Lyons; back: Robert McKibbens, Willard Strickland, Willie T. Elkins, Johnnie P. Jones, and John Sanders. Seven were World War II veterans. Photo: Courtesy of the Atlanta Police Department

Seventy-five years ago this month, Atlanta hired its first Black police officers.

Driving the news: In 1948, eight officers were hired to staff a new precinct at a "colored" YMCA downtown. But they faced immense challenges.

  • First of all, as author Thomas Mullen writes in Atlanta Magazine, the police union at the time was a " thinly veiled cover" for the Ku Klux Klan.

What happened: The first Black officers were not allowed to drive squad cars, patrol white neighborhoods, arrest white people or work from the main precinct.

  • They faced skepticism from the community they patrolled and harassment from white officers, some of whom falsely reported the Black officers for drinking and tried to run them over on the street.
  • One white officer even offered a $200 bounty to anyone who would kill a Black officer, Mullen writes.

"We had to fight those we arrested and fight the rest of the force as well," Clarence Perry said, according to Mullen. Perry was a Black officer hired in 1950.

  • "It was us against the world."

Catch up quick: The move came after years of protesting and pressure from Black Atlanta leaders, including the Rev. Martin Luther King, Sr. and John Wesley Dobbs.

Threat level: Amid the immense difficulties of the job, four of the original officers soon resigned. Only in 1953 were Black officers allowed in the main precinct, albeit relegated to the basement.

Today, about two-thirds of the Atlanta police force is Black.

Of note: The Atlanta Police Department will honor these officers tonight at the Jesse Hill, Jr. Drive building that used to house their YMCA precinct.

Go deeper: Read Mullen's 2016 article … and his novel about the officers "Darktown"


Get more local stories in your inbox with Axios Atlanta.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more

More Atlanta stories

No stories could be found


Get a free daily digest of the most important news in your backyard with Axios Atlanta.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more