2022 marks 50 years since three African American men joined the Mississippi Highway Patrol
JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) – If you drive along state highways, it’s very common to see African American soldiers working with the Mississippi Highway Patrol.
But this has not always been the case. It wasn’t until the early 1970s that African Americans first joined the agency.
“The question is why were no African Americans allowed to join the Highway Patrol? Because their mission was to keep us in line, and [they] certainly didn’t want someone they had to keep in line as part of their machinery,” said Constance Slaughter Harvey, who has filed a lawsuit challenging the issue.
Harvey said she sees a major problem with this way of thinking within MHP. She is the first African American woman to graduate from the Ole Miss School of Law and decided to fight this prejudice the best way she knew how.
In 1970, the Scott County woman filed a lawsuit accusing the Department of Public Safety of discrimination.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Willie Morrow and Jerome Mangum, both of whom sought to become state troopers.
“It was a separate branch, a government unit,” Harvey said. In 1972, the court issued a decision stating that there was in fact “some” discrimination in MHP’s hiring practices. As a result, the department was ordered to begin recruiting African Americans to join the agency.
Harvey said it was the first sign of progress. “I don’t mind kicking down a door and kicking it open. It doesn’t bother me, even now,” she said.
Neither Morrow nor Mangum ended up working with MHP. However, three African Americans who were among the first to walk through that door and into the department were RO Williams, Lewis Younger, and Walter Crosby.
The men entered the cadet school on June 18, 1972. “My mom was crying. She didn’t want me to go, but my dad said if I wanted to go, I had to,” Younger recalled. Williams and Younger said they weren’t abused in the more than 2 months of training and were given a fair chance.
Then, on Labor Day weekend of that year, the men received their badges to serve and protect, becoming the first African-American soldiers with the Mississippi Highway Patrol.
“It was a proud day, I just tried to do the best I could after that,” Younger said. But that proud moment would be followed by hard stares and headaches from people unaccustomed to seeing or willing to accept African Americans serving in this role.
“That was unheard of in Mississippi, a black soldier?” said Williams. “It was a situation like, Oh you must be new, or something like that. Or, Why are you stopping me, you can’t give me a ticketyes, we can, we have that authority.
Decades later, Younger and Williams still share laughs as they reflect on the fond memories they had wearing the badge. “It’s a dangerous profession, but it’s a good profession,” Younger said. “You save lives, you help people, and you’re just a good citizen. »
But when they think back to their historic accomplishment, there is a sense of emptiness. “I just wish Walter (Crosby) could be here with us,” Younger said. Crosby died in December 2021 after battling cancer.
The law enforcement veteran was 71 years old.
Although Crosby is no longer around, his family members tell us his legacy lives on.
“Our families were happy,” said Felicia Rucker, Crosby’s daughter. “It was exciting to see him drive home in that police cruiser, to see that he was one of three who was able to drive through and really make a difference, and wear that uniform to open the door to so many. ‘others. They never let that moment go to waste when it was all about the three of them.
“I’m proud of him, I’m very proud of him,” Crosby’s sister Flora Smith said. “I was just excited to see him, and it impressed me to see him ride in that patrol car. I loved every moment of it.”
After breaking the color barrier, all three went on to have successful careers with MHP. Crosby served as a private for a decade and retired as a sergeant. Younger worked at MHP for 21 years and retired as a major. Williams remained with MHP for nearly 26 years and retired as a master sergeant.
“The sacrifices that all three of them made, we can never repay,” Rucker said. “What we can do is continue to support efforts, diversify law enforcement at all levels, ensuring that we have diverse representation.”
“These three were determined,” Harvey said. “I just take my hat off to them. Extremely brave men who really never got the recognition and appreciation they truly deserve.
Former soldiers said they consider it a blessing knowing that their courage to defy the odds paved the way for other African Americans to want to serve in law enforcement.
“We started something like a snowball rolling down the hill,” Williams said. “It started with three, and you’re watching us today. Over 100 of us have already retired who look like me, have already retired. Then you got about 200, or almost, out there on the road today.
September 1 this year will mark 50 years since the integration of the three men into the MHP.
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