Former St. Louis police officer Edward Kendrick shares his story of trials and tribulation
The 1950’s were challenging times for Black folk in America and Edward Kendrick knows firsthand what things were like as a Black police officer charged with protecting his community amidst a time of racial segregation and discrimination.
By Charles Moseley
Since the shooting death of Michael Brown, in Ferguson the town is in the midst of experiencing its 15 minutes of fame, however it’s not the kind of notoriety that a town’s chamber of commerce would like to be known for.
It’s been slightly over a month since Michael Brown; an 18-year-old Black man was shot and killed by Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson. Aside from the fact that Brown was shot six times by officer Wilson, little more has been disclosed by law local law enforcement officials. However one thing remains clear and that is that Brown never will be able to tell his side of the story on what happened that fateful day of Saturday August 9th.
Since the shooting and subsequent civil unrest, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has instructed the Department of Justice to launch a probe surrounding the Ferguson shooting along with the Ferguson Police Department. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has also begun its own investigation.
The shooting sparked a week of protests, civil unrest, along with a few nights of sporadic looting in the predominantly Black areas of Ferguson, Missouri, a suburban town located in St. Louis County Missouri. Nationwide protests were heightened amid charges from local residents and the news media that police had used excessive force against peaceful protesters. National news re-ports and social media postings showed Missouri National Guardsmen shooting tear gas and firing rubber bullets at crowds of peaceful protesters.
Vivid scenes of a militarized law enforcement presence in Ferguson led to state and local elected officials calling for intervention from federal authorities. Civil rights organizations including the NAACP and National Action Network also called on federal authorities to intervene in Ferguson.
Ferguson’s Black residents comprise 67 percent of the town’s population yet only four Black police officers are on a police department comprised of 53 total officers on the town’s police force. Black residents have said that allegations of racial profiling and abuses of power have plagued the Ferguson Police Department for many years.
The racial divide that exists today in Ferguson is not without some historical precedent. In 1957 a young upstart preacher by the name of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. called for an end to discriminatory practices in St. Louis at a national Baptist Convention in St. Louis. There were also civil rights protests which occurred in 1963 namely The Jefferson Bank Protest and the St. Louis Gateway Arch demonstration which called for an end to discrimination in the construction and local banking industry.
Kendrick along with his wife has lived in Lighthouse Point the last 10 years. The retired couple moved to Broward County from St. Louis. Kendrick’s vividly recalls what it was like being a Black police officer in St. Louis back in the 1950’s.
The following is Part II of a three part interview Mr. Kendrick shared with the Westside Gazette Newspaper.
Westside Gazette (WG): What was is like being a Black policeman on the beat in St. Louis during the 1950’s?
Kendrick: “When I applied to become a police officer for the City of St. Louis Black men were not hired on the basis of their merit but they had to be recommended by politicians. They had Black policemen there when I grew up and they were only allowed to patrol in Black neighborhoods. My father reached out to one of the political figures in St. Louis who was very influential and that’s how Negroes were hired by the St. Louis Police Department. At that time we lived in segregated areas so Black policemen were policing Black people but were not allowed to police whites. I went on the St. Louis Police Force in 1953 and left in 1955. That experience was really hectic. Part of it was fun because it was a pride thing. In those days Black policeman if they weren’t hated by Black people they were loved by Black people. I happen to be one of those who was well thought of.”
W.G.: Was there any particular incident while you were a police officer that stands out in your mind?
Kendrick: “I had an experience on the police force where a Black man was reported having escaped people who caught him in the act of raping a white student nurse in the student nursing home. This was read to us at roll call. A few days later or a week later this same information was read to us again.
The same person was observed raping the same white girl in the same place. This was very humorous to the Black officers. The white officers were very angry. One night while I was walking the beat I saw the red light on the police call box. I answered the call and I was told by the young dispatcher that they had cornered this rapist at this particular nursing school home. I sped to the nursing home. The place was surrounded by police cars but there were no Black policemen present. I proceeded to the top of the roof. I could see in the shadows the body of a form of a man. I had a flash light and was the only one who saw that. The other officers had guns and one of them said, “There he is, there that N—er is.” I said, “I got him” and jumped on the man. I grappled with him and he was dead weight as if he were drunk or unconscious. As I pulled him down the stairs no one helped me with this man. They had the cruiser backed up to the stairs and I pulled him into the cruiser and he was on the floor. I sat on one side of him and three officers sat on the other. I put my feet on the back of the man to keep him from getting stomped. We went to the city hospital and a Black doctor came out and said the man was drinking but not drunk.
“We proceeded to the 10th District Police Station. When we got inside the station the desk sergeant struck the man with the sign in book and cursed him calling him all kinds of N—ers and said, “Get that N—er out of my sight or I will kill him.” I dropped the man and then I took umbrage to his statements. So I proceeded to curse along with this sergeant so we cursed each other. And I told him if he would come out from behind that counter I would kick his a–. The police corporal who was acting sergeant in my precinct said, ‘Kendrick we have a call in our precinct, would you come with us?” This was unprecedented because at that time whites and Blacks did not ride together on calls. This older corporal was trying to defuse the situation. When I got into the car he said he was really surprised at the conduct of the desk sergeant.”
W.G.: During those days how were race relations between white police officers and Black residents?
Kendrick: “At that time I noticed no strain between Black and White police relations. Conditions were relatively good in St. Louis. We had Black sergeants and one or two Black lieutenants. I left the force because my captain called me in the day after my altercation with the sergeant. He told me to either get myself a transfer or he would get me out the district himself. I took this to mean he was going to fire me, so I quit.”