“The Best Careers Any Young Man Can Have: Jacksonville’s African American Police Officers”
A military or police force has had a consistent presence in the area we now know as Jacksonville, Florida, beginning with the French and Spanish occupations of the area in the 16th century. Florida was incorporated into the United States in 1821, and Jacksonville was founded in June of 1822. Almost immediately, a police force for the city was created.
According to Jacksonville native and history-making police officer, Charles Scriven, the police force is one of “the best careers any young man can have, especially if he is African-American.”
The History of African-Americans Police Officers in Jacksonville
A Town Marshal represented the police force. Before the Civil War they had the “authority to call upon any citizen of the town to help him when force was necessary”. During and after the Civil War, Jacksonville was consistently occupied by Union and Federal forces until 1869.
In April of 1870, Jacksonville held elections that resulted in victories for Reconstruction Republicans and black Freedmen. Dave Pettis became the first African-America elected to the office of the Board of Police Commissioners. Five black police officers, two black jailors and, two black constables were also elected.
In 1871, Frank Anderson was elected Town Marshal of La Villa.
In 1872, Emmanuel Fortune was elected the first African-American Town Marshal in the City of Jacksonville. He served as Jacksonville’s renowned lawman from 1872-74.
In 1878, George H. Mays, the City’s first black Police Sergeant, became the second black Town Marshal.
In 1887, a new city charter changed the title of “Captain of Police” to “Chief of Police”. The Chief was in charge of a 1st Lieutenant, two desk sergeants and twenty-four patrolmen. By December of 1887, one sergeant and fifteen of the twenty-four officers were black.
In May of 1887, a new Jacksonville city charter abolished the towns of LaVilla and Fairfield, and annexed them along with their black populations. This resulted in an integrated government. Black citizens filled the positions of five of the Alderman, the Municipal Judge, fifteen of the twenty-three policemen, two police sergeants and the Chairman of the Board of Police Commissioners. The previously white dominated city administration refused to accept the election results. At the same time, the city was dealing with an epidemic – Yellow Fever erupted in the city and by July of 1888, one out of every three of the 14,000 people were stricken with sickness. The town was placed under quarantine, a strict curfew that would not allow exit or entry to the city. White Democrats and conservatives accused the newly elected city officials of incompetence. On May 16, 1889, the State legislature passed “House Bill No. 4”, giving Governor Francis P. Fleming – a conservative from Jacksonville – the power to abolish the elected town government and appoint officials of his own choosing. For the next 61 years, the police force of Jacksonville would remain white only.
On July 16, 1950, the first black officers were hired in Jacksonville when city officials finally responded to growing demands in the black community. Henry Harley, Edward Hickson, Alvin James, Beamon Kendall, Marion Massey and Charlie Sea were sent to a separate “police Academy” at the Wilder Park playground (instead of the Police Academy for the City of Jacksonville).
Charles J. Scriven joined the Jacksonville Police force in 1955. He also attended the separate police academy. His training was completed at the Wilder Park playground. Precinct #3 was housed in the Wilder Park Civic Club Building. The Precinct was soon moved to the Blodgett Homes Housing Project, located at 1201 N. Davis Street. Scriven class consisted of 14 men, 13 of which completed the academy. Precinct #3 contained twenty-seven officers along with the white supervisors. Black officers were required to be under white supervisors and were not allowed to arrest whites. “We did not investigate traffic accidents between whites or black and whites,” Scriven said. All twenty-seven officers were assigned walking beats; patrol cars were for white officers only.
“We were restricted to the basic black community and business community…of course we walked the first years and then we got two cars and perhaps spread out in the larger black community…but we were restricted, we could not arrest whites. When we needed to, we had to call our supervisors.”
In 1953, Precinct #3 was moved to 4th and Jefferson Streets and in 1955, Precinct #3 was given two patrol cars.
In 1957, Jacksonville’s black officers organized a baseball team for kids. Under the guidance of Officer Tommie L. Mays, Sr., the first athletic director, a league was formed to combat juvenile delinquency in neighborhoods. This league would become known as the Police Athletic League (PAL). “We were restricted, of course, to assigned boys in the black community”.
In 1958, Jacksonville’s black police officers were permitted to supervise their own. Edward Kendall, Charlie Sea and Solomon Weston were promoted to the rank of Sergeant. In 1959, Sergeant Charles Sea was killed in the line of duty while on a burglary call.
Finally, after many years of being torn between law enforcement and the community, in 1966, Precinct #3, the “Colored Division Headquarters” closed forever with the integration of the ranks of the Jacksonville Police Department.
“There is a sustained effort now to hire indiscriminately and for the police department to reflect the demographic of the community they serve,” said Scriven.
In 1968, voters approved the consolidation of Duval County and the City of Jacksonville governments. Subsequently, the Jacksonville Police Department and the Duval County Road Patrol merged to become the Office of the Sheriff.
In 1983, Sgt. Nathaniel Glover was appointed by Sherriff Dale Carson to the rank of Chief of Services. This was the first time an African-American was appointed to this position outside of Community Relations.
In April of 1995, Nathaniel Glover, also a Jacksonville native, a graduate of the New Stanton High School and Edward Waters College, was elected Sheriff of Duval County. He is the first black Sheriff elected in Florida since Reconstruction. He was reelected in 1999.
About Charles Scriven
Charles Scriven is a Jacksonville native and a 1951 graduate of Stanton Senior High School. He joined the Army in 1951, serving until 1954, where he worked as a Military Policeman and Provost Marshal in the Investigative Unit. He married Jeanetta Latimer in 1954. They have four children. Scriven joined the Jacksonville Police Department in 1955, as a Patrolman, and subsequently served as Sergeant and Lieutenant. He received his B.S. in Social Science from Edward Waters College in 1962. In 1973, under Sheriff Dale Carson, Lt. Scriven was appointed to Chief of a new division – the Community Relations division to maintain “closer lines of communication between the black community and the sheriff’s office.” This was the first time an African-American was given the rank of Police Chief. Chief Scriven was promoted to the Florida Parole and Probation Commission in 1975. Also in 1975, he received his M.A. from Stetson University in Religion-Education. Scriven became the first African-American appointed to the commission when Governor Reuben Askew expanded the five-member Parole Commission to include a black person and a woman to serve. He retired from the Commission in 1987. After he retired from the Parole Commission he joined the Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco, retiring again, in 2003 as captain (receiving a courtesy promotion to major).
To watch an interview of Charles Scriven, please view the Jacksonville History Show’s interview here.