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A Conversation With Miami's First Black Police Chief

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Nadege Green
/
WLRN
Clarence Dickson was the first black graduate of Miami's police academy and he would later become the city's first black police chief.

Clarence Dickson was the first black graduate of the City of Miami's police academy and he rose to become Miami’s first black police chief in 1985.

He says an encounter with a black police officer led him to to join the force. The year was 1960. He was at a bus stop waiting to go to work when the officer drove up and started asking him questions. 

It was 4 a.m. and Dickson was 24 years old and fresh out of the Air Force. The officer was impressed with his work ethic.

"He said, 'Why don't you go and take the test?'" recounted Dickson. "I said, 'What test?'"

The officer responded, "The police test."

Miami was still segregated. Black officers were only allowed to patrol Miami’s black neighborhoods: Liberty City, Coconut Grove and Overtown, also called the Central Negro District. Then, black officers were forced to take special routes to avoid driving through white communities.

Before Dickson, black officers received peer-to-peer on-the-job training. They were not allowed in the all-white police academy. 

May is Miami Museum Month. Dickson sat down with WLRN reporter Nadege Green at The Black Police Precinct & Courthouse Museum in Overtown to talk about the early days of Miami's police department. 

Below is an edited excerpt of  Dickson's story:

There I was sitting in class. The first day of class and the academy.

There were actually two other blacks in that class. After the third or fourth week, they didn't show up anymore. They dropped out. That left me and 40 white guys.

About six weeks into the academy, the instructors said that you guys are going to go out and ride with real police officers. That Saturday I showed up and my class got on the bus.  They put me in a police car.

They brought me to Overtown, to this building right here where I sit. At that time in 1960 it was the Black Police Precinct where all of the black police officers worked from.  The black sergeant said, "He's the first."

I said, "The first what?"

Because nothing had been explained to me. No one in the academy told me that I was the first black to go to the academy. That was not discussed.

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Credit Courtesy of Clarence Dickson
An undated photo of Clarence Dickson after joining the City of Miami police.

 So after roll call, one of the black officers walked over to me and said, "Some of us even lost our jobs fighting to get blacks into the academy." He said, "Don't let us down."

I was flunking out of the academy at that time. You can actually fail three tests and you’re out. I'd failed two already and I was expecting to fail the other one . When he told me that — about how people lost their jobs and they’d been fighting to get blacks in the academy — I felt a great responsibility to these guys. I didn’t realize how important it was.

I went back and I really rose from being almost kicked out of the academy to graduating number two in my class. In the class, 13 graduated. Our academy class took a picture. All 13 of us standing up in our uniforms relieved and proud.

And there I was, the only black guy in that class. I didn’t realize how important that picture was so I lost it along the way. The picture that's hanging up there now in the academy's hall of graduates is a picture of all white police officers. I'm not in it.

What they did was I found out from my classmates later on — they were called back to take a picture without me. And that's the picture that hangs on the wall at the academy today.

That was because of the discrimination and the prejudice and the segregation that was going on at that time. They had no idea that they were eliminating the first black police chief from that photograph.

IF YOU GO:

Black Police Precinct Courthouse and Museum 
480 NW 11th Street
305-329-2513
http://historicalblackprecinct.org