Color Barrier for Atlanta Firefighters Broken in 1963

City of Atlanta's First Black Firefighters, 1963. Courtesy of Atlanta Fire Rescue Public Affairs

by Sgt. Cortez Stafford, Public Affairs, Atlanta Fire Rescue Department

In the city of Atlanta, racial barriers were broken in 1963 as 16 African American rookies were hired for the position of firefighter.

The new firefighters received 75 hours of training at the Atlanta Training Facility under the supervision of Chief R.N. McGill.  The initial training was done at the recruit’s own expense and own time as they were not yet employees of the city. This was the policy at the time and was not done as resistance in integrating the fire department.

Upon completion of training, all 16 were assigned to Station 16 on Simpson Road (now called Joseph E. Boone Boulevard) under the command of white officers and white fire apparatus operators. This was a new station within the mostly black community, a community which fought hard to see Blacks be able to serve an area in which they lived and worked with courage, honor and respect.

These 16 firefighters were:

Johnny Belcher, 29

Frank Bolden, 23

Harry Bowen, 20

William Collier, 23

Theodore Ector, 26

William Hamer, 24

Milton Harp, 26

Gartrell Jordan, Jr., 26

Ralph Lester, 23

James Maddox, 25

Elbert Morrow, 30

Marvin Reed, 25

Quinton Redding, 26

Harold Rosemound, 28

Emmett Smith, 29

Robert Ware, 21

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