‘These men persevered’: Richmond Fire Department honors 71st anniversary of state’s first Black career firefighters

Published: Jul. 11, 2021 at 7:59 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - On the corner of East Duval and North Fifth Street, city leaders and members of the Richmond Fire Department gathered for a ceremony celebrating the 71st hiring anniversary of the first Black career firefighters in the city.

Out of 500 applicants, ten men were chosen to serve for the fire department under Engine Company No. 9 on July 1, 1950. They would go on to be the first Black career firefighters in Richmond and Virginia.

Friends and family of these ten men, including Pat Whitfield, came up to the podium to share their memories about their impact.

“I was three years old when my dad got inducted into the fire department,” Whitfield said.

Pat Whitfield’s father, Arthur L. Page, was one of the ten men hired for the job.

“He earned positions, but I remember him getting turned away,” she said. “Not because of the content of his character, but because of the color of his skin.”

Seventy-one years later, Whitfield and city leaders shared the struggles these men faced during a time of segregation.

“Back then, there were actually some fire stations in the city where Black firefighters were not even allowed to go through the front door,” said Mayor Levar Stoney. “These men persevered. They endured. They sacrificed and they served.”

The fire departments were not integrated until 1963. Engine Company No. 9 closed down in 1968, but the memories of these trailblazers continue in the same spot where the station once stood.

Richmond Fire Chief Melvin Carter says the perseverance from these men inspires future generations of firefighters, including himself.

“The ten men on the marker behind us are living examples of what commitment to a vision and belief in their community,” Carter said, “so others like myself and other Richmond firefighters can be inspired to one day pick up that mantle and show others that this, too, is possible.”

Decades later, friends and family of these ten trailblazers sit in the place where they made history to share a lesson in perseverance.

“I won’t give up,” Whitfield said. “I will keep trying.”

In August, the community will celebrate the 75th anniversary of the first African-American police officers hired in the City of Richmond and Virginia.

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