2022 marks 50 years since three African American men integrated the Mississippi Highway Patrol
JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - If you drive along the state’s highways, it’s very common to see African American troopers working with the Mississippi Highway Patrol.
But that wasn’t always the case. It wasn’t until the early 70s when African Americans first joined the agency.
“The question is why were no African Americans permitted to join the Highway Patrol? Because their mission was to keep us in line, and [they] definitely didn’t want anybody that they had to keep in line being a part of their machinery,” said Constance Slaughter Harvey,” who filed a lawsuit challenging this issue.
Harvey said she saw a major problem with that way of thinking inside MHP. She’s the first African American female to graduate from the Ole Miss School of Law and decided to fight against that 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, who were both looking to become state troopers.
”It was a segregated branch, unit of government,” said Harvey. In 1972, the court issued a ruling saying 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 this was the first sign of progress. ”I don’t mind beating a door down and kicking it open. I don’t mind that even now,” she expressed.
Morrow nor Mangum ended up working with MHP. However, three African Americans who were among the first to walk through that door and integrate the department are R.O. Williams, Lewis Younger, and Walter Crosby.
The men entered Cadet School on June 18 of 1972. ”My mama was crying. She didn’t want me to go, but my daddy said if I wanted to go, I should do it,” Younger recalled. Williams and Younger said they weren’t mistreated during the more than 2-months of training and were given a fair shot.
Then on Labor Day weekend of that year, the men received their badges to serve and protect, becoming the first African Americans troopers with the Mississippi Highway Patrol.
”It was a proud day, I just tried to do the best job I could after that,” said Younger. But that proud moment would be followed by hard stares and headaches from people not used to seeing, or willing to accept, African Americans serving in that role.
”This was unheard of in Mississippi, a Black trooper?” said Williams. “It was a situation like, Oh, you must be new, or something like that. Or, What are you stopping me for, you can’t give me a ticket, yes, we can, we have that authority.”
Decades later, Younger and Williams still share laughs as they reflect on the fond memories they had while wearing the badge. ”It’s a dangerous profession, but it’s a good profession,” said Younger. “You’re saving lives, helping people, and just being a good citizen.”
But as they look back on their historic accomplishment, there’s a sense of emptiness. ”I just wish Walter (Crosby) could be here with us,” Younger expressed .Crosby passed away in December of 2021 after battling cancer.
The veteran law enforcement officer was 71 years old.
Although Crosby is no longer here, family members tell us his legacy continues to live on.
”Our families were happy,” said Felicia Rucker, Crosby’s daughter. “It was exciting to see him come home in that police car, to see that he was one of the three that was able to cross over and really make a difference, and wear that uniform to open the door for so many others. They never let that moment get lost that it was all about the three of them.”
”I’m proud of him, I’m very proud of him,” said Flora Smith, Crosby’s sister. “I was just excited to see him, and it impressed me to see him riding in that patrol car. I loved every moment of it.”
After breaking the color barrier, all three would go on to have successful careers with MHP. Crosby served as a trooper for a decade and retired as a Sergeant. Younger worked at MHP for 21 years and retired as a Major. Williams stayed with MHP for nearly 26 years and retired as a Master Sergeant.
“The sacrifices that all three of them made, we can never repay them,” said Rucker. “What we can do is continue to support the efforts, diversify law enforcement at all levels, ensuring that we have a diverse representation.”
“These three were determined,” said Harvey. “I just take my hat off to them. Extremely courageous men who really never got the recognition and appreciation that they truly deserve.”
The former troopers said they consider it a blessing knowing their courage to defy the odds paved the way for other African Americans wanting to serve in law enforcement.
“We started something that’s like a snowball rolling down the hill,” said Williams. “It started with three, and you look at us today. Over 100 of us have already retired that look just like me, have already retired. Then you’ve got about 200 or so, or close to it, that’s out there on the road today.”
September 1 of this year will mark 50 years since the three men integrated MHP.
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