N.C. Responders Recall Pioneering Racial Integration

N.C. Responders Recall Pioneering Racial Integration

News Feb 23, 2013

Chick Carter didn't have any thought of being a pioneer back in 1951.

He didn't even want to be a firefighter.

But a friend urged him to come along one day and stand in the long line of people applying to be the first black firefighters in Winston-Salem. That friend, John Ford, saw someone he knew up at the front of the line and walked up. He motioned for Carter to join him. A conversation turned into a chance to jump the long line.

And Carter found himself a member of an eight-man recruiting class that turned into the first racially integrated fire company.

Carter and the other three living members of Engine Four were honored Friday in a black history program taking place at the Goodwill Industries headquarters on University Parkway.

Carter, Raphael O. Black, Robert L. Grier and John Roi Thomas all sat in the front row as Winston-Salem Mayor Allen Joines and others talked about their achievements and those of other blacks who have pioneered roles in the department.

Among those were the black fire chiefs who have led the department: Lester Ervin, chief from 1980 to 1989; Otis Cooper, chief from 1993 to 1998; John W. Gist, chief from 1998 to 2008; and Antony Farmer, the current chief.

After the ceremony, Carter told how he was at loose ends when he decided to try out being a fireman. He had dropped out of Winston-Salem Teachers College, as it was known then, to play baseball, where he picked up the nickname Chick (his real name is Willie J. Carter). When Carter discovered he was not going to get into the Majors he knew he had to make other plans. He told his wife he would try being a firefighter for six months, then go back to college.

"I stayed 35 years," Carter said.

It wasn't easy being a black firefighter back in the 1950s. Chief M.G. Brown was against having the black firefighters in the department, Carter said, and tried to make life hard.

Continue Reading

"When we had our training, he didn't even give us fire gear to train in," Carter said. "We were training in civilian clothes." Carter said black firefighters got "the most distasteful assignments" and weren't rotated out for rest breaks, as the other men were, when they were on the scene of a big fire.

But don't get the impression that the retired firefighters are nursing grudges. They tell their tales like a veteran tells war stories.

"They sent us on the worst fires," Thomas said. "They did it to discourage us, but we just laughed and went on."

Quietly, almost secretly, the black and white firefighters ended the petty segregation at the Engine Four firehouse.

Engine Four consisted of the eight black firefighters and seven white officers who had volunteered for duty there.

At first the segregation was what you'd expect in the 1950s in the South: Separate water fountains, bathrooms, meals and so on.

Thomas said one white officer decided it didn't make sense. Why couldn't they all just use the same facilities and eat together, since they were all there at the firehouse? So that's what they did, long before the era of sit-ins and demonstrations. The chief didn't like it, Thomas said, but ended up having to tolerate it.

One of the eight black firefighters, Lester Ervin, became fire chief in Winston-Salem in 1980 and retired in 1989 with 38 years of service. Ervin died in 1998. His granddaughter, Taelor Dickenson, was there to accept recognition on his behalf during the ceremony.

"I look at us as trailblazers," Thomas said. "If we had failed we would have set a bad example."

Copyright 2013 - Winston-Salem Journal, N.C.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

Winston-Salem Journal, N.C.
Wesley Young
Acushnet ambulances will be using Tylenol, Toradol, and ibuprofen as safer alternatives to fentanyl as the opioid epidemic continues to worsen.
Medline is one of the first to achieve a fentanyl-resistant product in response to the growing opioid epidemic.
A portion of ticket sales will help fund the monument in Keansburg, which will feature a piece of a steel beam from the World Trade Center.
The AAA honored SCCAD's efforts in combating the opioid epidemic with a 2017 AMBY Award in the category of Community Impact Program.
The funds will benefit organizations along the Hudson River such as Rockland Paramedic Services, Nyack Hospital, and Maternal Infant Services Network.
As one of the top ten most active emergency departments in the nation, Reading Hospital staff felt it was time to prepare for an active shooter event.
Doctors participating in Minnesota's Medicaid program could face warnings and even removal from the program if they exceed the new dosage limit for more than half of their patients.
The unique intelligence system delivers verified terror alerts within two minutes of a terror threat or attack anywhere in the world.
Over 100 EMS, fire and police personnel participated in a large-scale active shooter training event at Pechanga Resort & Casino.
Tristan Meadows, leader for the campus group Students for Opioid Solutions, presented a bill to the UND School Senate to purchase 50 Narcan kits.
The LBKAlert system alerts community members through call, text or email notifications of emergency events and instructions on what actions to take to protect themselves.
Dispatchers at New Bern Police Department's communications center are now allowed to provide pre-arrival medical instructions to 9-1-1 callers.
Christopher Hunter, MD, discusses the medical response after the Pulse Nightclub attack and how comparing our experience to available evidence will improve understanding of the approach to an active shooter and mass fatality event.
The Wapello County Public Health Office will be distributing 12 Lifepak defibrillators to public locations to increase survival rates for heart attack and cardiac arrest victims.
AMR's Home for the Holidays program provides free rides to at least 40 patients in assisted living facilities to transport them to their loved ones.