First five of Tyler's finest

By Molly Reuter - bio - email

Posted by Ellen Krafve - email

EAST TEXAS (KLTV) - At its annual banquet this month, the Tyler Police Department honored the first five African American police officers. All but one are still alive today, and two of them never even left East Texas.

They've been friends since they were kids. Growing up in north Tyler Ira Brown, 84, and Alvin Anderson, 80, learned to love their community.

"At the time, they had to get used to us, and we had to get used to them because there were no black police officers at the time," said Brown. "[There] had never been."

Brown joined the Tyler Police Department in 1954 after he was discharged from the Army.

"I needed a job," said Brown. "That one reason. In fact, that was the main reason."

About a year later, Anderson said he followed in his friend's first steps.

"I really like following Ira Brown and Willi Johnson there," said Anderson. "There's a lot of pride taken in those guys, and I just wanted to follow them there."

Brown and Johnson said that through the years, they worked for two very different police departments. In the beginning, Brown said police work was easy.

"Everything was segregated back then, and back in '54 our job wasn't very hard because we only had to work in the black area," said Brown.

"We had a lot of parents stop us and tell us their kids were not going to school and cutting class, and we get the kids and shake them up a little bit and scared them to death and things like that," said Anderson.

He said they could stop a white person, but that's as far as their job would go.

"We have stopped them for violations, but we'd have to call another patrolman in, a white patrolman," said Anderson.

Back at the police station, which now houses the City of Tyler's water utilities department, there were separate water fountains and restrooms, but when the city integrated, Brown said their jobs got much harder.

"Well, I had to go to work then," laughed Brown. "Because I was working all over town because it was a difference."

After integration, Brown said he remembers being sent to Andy Woods Elementary School to pick up a janitor for questioning.

"Before I got back to the station, people in the neighborhood were calling, asking what I was doing out there," said Brown.

It took time, Brown said for all of Tyler to get used to its African American police officers. A time in history that these men say they will never forget thanks to pictures like this one taken in 1955.

"Brown and Willy worked the day shift," said Anderson. "[One time] they were coming from the fair, and we were waiting for the car, so we could get in and go to the fair, so that's why our shoes were shiny and there's were all dusted up."

"When you see that picture of the four of you, what runs through your mind," I asked Brown.

"That I made it," answered Brown.

He served as a Tyler police officer for more than 30 years. Alvin Anderson was on the police force for about 8 and a half years. From there he went into education, serving as Assistant Principal at John Tyler High School among other positions.