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Little Known History: Charleston Black Police Officers
Published:
2/25/2015 4:55:18 PM

By Beverly Gadson-Birch


In 1868 after the Civil War, numerous police officers served in the Charleston Police Department until 1895 segregationist, Pitchford Tillman, reconstructed the state constitution to strip Blacks of their political powers and established segregation as the law of the land. In 1895, Charleston fired its last five police officers. Contrastingly, one black police officer remained in law enforcement. He was Edmund Jenkins of Mt. Pleasant, SC. Jenkins was born a slave in McClellanville, SC in 1845. In 1890, Jenkins moved to Mt. Pleasant where he became a police officer and served in various capacities including Assistant Police Chief and Town Marshall. Officer Jenkins retired in 1927 as a highly respected officer among both black and white town residents. Officer Jenkins died in 1930. In 1960, Mt. Pleasant first housing complex was erected and named in his honor.

In 1950, the Mayor of Charleston, William Morrison, opened the door to black police officers once again by hiring nine black officers: Walter T. Burke, Cambridge Jenkins, Jr, Benjamin Taylor and Christopher Ward. And, in 1957 Ernest Deveaux, George Gathers, Monkue Henghen, James Mikell and Joseph Wong were added to the force. All of the police officers that were responsible for breaking down barriers in the 50’s and 60’s are now deceased with the exception of Ruebin Mack (hired 1959) and Fred Stroble (hired 1962).

From 1962 to 1970, the Civil Rights Movement was hot in Charleston. The late J. Palmer Gilliard was Mayor of Charleston and the late William F. Kelly was Chief of Police. The police station was located on the corner of St. Philip and Vanderhorst Streets which is the current site of Charleston Water System. Sit-ins and demonstrations began at theatres, restaurants, playgrounds, swimming pools, etc., throughout the city. Black Police Officers were not allowed to drive police cruisers. Hundreds of protesters were lying in the streets at the corner of King and Calhoun Streets. With so much unrest going on, the City of Charleston had no other choice but to allow black police officers to drive police cars.

During this period, Herbert Fielding, the late Ruby Cornwell, Septima P. Clark and about ten other blacks were arrested at Fort Sumer Hotel Restaurant. The late Jack White, a retired postman, filed a lawsuit against the City of Charleston Municipal Golf Course and Harvey Gantt also filed a lawsuit to enter Clemson University. The late J. Arthur Brown was president of the NAACP. Racial tensions were running high in the Charleston Police Department. Brown asked J. Palmer Gilliard to promote black police officers. Mayor Gilliard told him the police officers they would have to take a test for promotion. All took the test and all failed according to Mayor Gilliard. Stroble took the test several times and was told he failed. Stroble requested to see his test results and was denied. Stroble then took the U. S. Civil Service Examination in 1972 and scored 96 out of 100 and appointed Deputy US Marshal. Fred Stroble was the third Black Deputy appointed in the state of SC. Cambridge Jenkins, Jr was he first black appointed in 1966 and the following year Vernoy Kennedy from Greenville, SC was appointed.

All sit-in demonstrators were arrested and defended by all black attorneys, Russell Brown, Bernard Fielding, Fred Henderson Moore, the late George Payton, John H. Wrighten, Banjamin Cook and Matthew Perry, Columbia, SC, served as Chief Council for the NAACP. The Black attorneys put their legal skills to work, led by the late Matthew Perry. His baritone voice electrified the courtroom, where he told a municipal judge “that he could not try a segregated case in a segregated courtroom”. The courtroom had a section with reserved seating signs on the walls for White & Colored. The judge had no other option but to recess the court for two weeks and had the signs removed from the walls. All of the sit-in defendants were found guilty in municipal court but Attorney Perry appealed to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals and sitting Judge Clarence Singletary dismissed the cases. Jack White won his case against the Municipal Golf Course in the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals and Harvey Gantt won his case for admission to attend Clemson University. Attorney Perry won all of the appeals.

In 1964, Fred Stroble was the first black to be assigned to the Traffic Department as a Motorcyle Officer. In 1965, Stroble was promoted to the rank of Detective. In 1969, Stroble was appointed as the first Black Deputy Sheriff for Charleston County.

The late John F. Kennedy used the U.S Marshals to help integrate the schools in the south. As more blacks entered the United States Marshal Service, racial tension grew. It became so bad that Blacks in the U.S. Marshal Service organized a Black Marshal Organization and Wallace Roney from Washington, DC was elected Chairman. Black organizations sued the Justice Department for allegedly encouraging discrimination against the black Marshals. A white Ex-Chief Deputy Marshal’s wife testified in the U.S. District Court in Washington, DC on behalf the black Marshals about the plot to deny blacks promotion. The Marshals won their case and were awarded actual and punitive damages totaling millions of dollars.

Fred Stroble served the United States District for 23 years. A retired U. S. Deputy Marshal with 23 years, 17 years as a Federal Court Security Officer and two years as a Charleston County Deputy Sheriff. He served eight years with the Charleston City Police Department as a Police officer and a Detective. He has served on special assignments in every state in the United States, including the U. S. Virgin Island and Puerto Rico. Stroble was assigned to the Watergate trial in Washington, DC. He was one of 400 U. S. Marshals sent to Boston, Massachusetts during school desegregation.

U. S. Marshall Stroble escorted the first female student, Shannon Faulkner, under Federal Court order for admission to the Citadel.

Fred Stroble received numerous awards including a nomination by U. S. Senate Fritz Hollings for Congressional Record before the 104th Congress, for Excellence in Public Service, he Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc, award for Excellence in Law Enforcement, The Association for Study of African American Life and History Carter G. Wilson award for outstanding community person, A. Phillip Randolph Association, Isiah Bennett and numerous special recognition awards from the U. S. Attorney General.

Stroble served on the Boards at Jenkins Orphanage and the Charleston Southern University Criminal Justice. He graduated from South Carolina Criminal Justice Academy-Burglary School, Columbia, SC; FBI Fingerprint School, Atlanta, GA; U.S. Marshal Academy, Washington, DC and numerous other law enforcement schools.

Lest we forget, we owe a debt of gratitude to our front runners who paved the way for blacks to enter and excel in law enforcement.

 

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