During the period of Reconstruction that followed at the close of the American Civil War, Texas was occupied by Union forces from 1867 to 1873. On June 8, 1867, Major General Charles Griffin, stationed in Galveston and displeased with local police performance, instructed Mayor James E. Haviland to dismiss the entire police force. General Griffin then submitted to the Mayor his own list of officers which included the names of “five colored men.” The Mayor challenged the General in his selection of the five African American officers and after several communications and meetings, General Griffin dismissed Haviland and appointed Isaac G. Williams the new Mayor. The June 9, 1867, issue of The Galveston Daily News noted William Easton, Anderson Hunt, Simon Malone, Solomon Riley, and Robert Smith as the first African Americans appointed to the Galveston police force. Integration was slow, however, and by the end of the 1940s, the Galveston Police Department included just fifteen African American officers.
In 1957, nearly one hundred years after the first African American men were named to the city’s police force, Lucious Pope, Leroy Small, and Genoice Walker were the first African American firemen hired by the Galveston Fire Department. The men were stationed at Engine House No. 3 at 2828 Market and were included in a group of eight hose and laddermen added to the Galveston Fire Department on Thursday, November 21, 1957, by the board of the city commissioners, on the recommendation of Police and Fire Commissioner, Walter B. Rourke.
Informal links between Engine House No. 3 and the African-American community developed by 1927. In that year, a close mayoral election pitted incumbent Jack E. Pearce against fire and police commissioner R.P. Williamson. African-American voters tended to favor Williamson. Some actively supported his candidacy and distributed information cards on his behalf. On April 8, a report surfaced that, in a political maneuver, Pearce’s allies had promised to “turn fire station No. 3, located at Twenty-ninth and Market streets, over to the negroes, and that the entire personnel of this station would be made up of negroes.” The announcement demonstrated the perception of links between Engine House No. 3 and the African-American community in 1927 and marked the first documented attempt to give black Galvestonians a role within the municipal fire department. Pearce won the election but did not uphold the agreement and Engine House No. 3 continued to operate with exclusively white personnel throughout the 1930s and 1940s.
In November 1938, the city authorized the solicitation of bids for repairs to the fire station. Following the repairs, the building began to serve new functions as a community resource. At least as early as 1941, the station was the polling location for the predominantly African American Precinct 6. The city also housed a driver’s license office inside the building.
Finally, on November 2, 1957, the Galveston Daily News announced that the fire department planned to hire African-American firefighters for the first time in its history. Police and Fire Commissioner Walter B. Rourke Jr. explained that, pending approval of the city budget, he planned to hire eight men in total—five white and three black. All eight were to serve as “hose and laddermen at Station No. 3, 29th and Market.” As part of the preparations for the new personnel, the station added new accommodations.
Engine House 3 – 1924Three weeks after the article announced the pending addition of African Americans to the fire department, the Galveston Daily News confirmed on November 23, 1957, that Rourke had followed through on his campaign promises. The department added eight firemen, including five white men: Conrad Pierce, Jesse W. Gully, J.F. Charpry, Alfred A. Coppalo, and Donald Jack; and three black men: Lucious Pope, Leroy Small, and Genoice Walker. The article reiterated that the three black firemen would work separate shifts at Engine House No. 3.
Lucious Trust Pope was born January 15, 1938, in Ringgold, Louisiana, where his parents worked as sharecroppers. In 1955, his father took a job at the Galveston airport (Scholes Field) and the family relocated to the Palm Terrace neighborhood in Galveston. Pope graduated from Central High in 1957 and worked as an attendant at a Texaco Service Station at the corner of 23rd Street and Sealy. In Pope’s words:
“I happened to be walking down the street somewhere on 29th near H, and I ran into a black police officer and I think I was inquiring of him if he knew where I could find a better job. And he said to me ‘Police Chief Rourke…made the campaign promise that if he won he would hire some black firemen,’ he says, ‘he won so why don’t you go down and put in an application.’ And that I did. Little did I think I would pass it, but I did.”
Pope worked at Engine House No. 3 for three years before he left Galveston to serve in the U.S. Army. He trained as a psychiatric specialist at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio and then served at William Beaumont General Hospital in El Paso. He was discharged in February 1964 and afterward, he returned to Galveston and the fire department. He remained there for one year before he moved to California. He later sold insurance for Golden State Mutual Life Insurance Company and organized the Greater New Vision Missionary Baptist Church in Los Angeles where he continues to serve as the congregation’s pastor.
Genoice Laurice Walker was born February 14, 1939, in Grapeland, Texas, the fourteenth child of Samuel and Angie Brown Walker. He spent his childhood in Grapeland before he left home and moved to Galveston at the age of 16. Walker worked for a couple of years at Muzar’s Service Station before he began his fire department career at the age of 18. Following a hiatus to serve in the U.S. Army, he worked as a training officer and captain at the No. 3. Station. He designed the first Fireman Training Field to train firemen in life support and rescue technologies and was also active outside of the fire department. Walker earned his GED from Central High School, became a licensed mortician at Green’s Funeral Home (602 32nd Street), and owned his own Conoco Service Station. Upon his retirement from firefighting, he continued to work various jobs that included stints at the Galveston County Sheriff’s Office and management of his own private business, Emergency Service Company. Walker died in Galveston in 2005.
Leroy Lawrence Small was born May 29, 1931, in Galveston. Whereas Pope and Walker were both teenagers when they came to the fire department, Small was in his late twenties. Little is known about Small’s life and his fire department career. Pope remembers him as a quiet man who tended to stick to himself. He died December 9, 1995, in Portland, Oregon.
At the time Pope, Walker, and Small began their fire department careers, shifts lasted 24 hours. Each firefighter worked one shift and then had 48 hours off. When Pope arrived for his first day in late November 1957, he found that the white firefighters at station No. 3 had prepared for their arrival with the construction of a separate kitchen and separate sleeping quarters. As Pope explained,
“Much to my surprise, they showed me to the back of their kitchen where they had built a new kitchen for me, or for us. And so, I had a separate kitchen. They had given me a refrigerator, a stove, dishes, everything. That was where I ate my meals—in ‘my kitchen,’ I called it. And upstairs there was a large section for the men to sleep. Many cots, many beds. And to my further surprise, they showed me my bedroom. They had built a new bedroom in the back upstairs, where I was to sleep. There were three beds in there I recall, one for each of us.”
In the original station configuration, the black firefighters responded to emergencies by running through the whites’ bedroom to slide down the fireman’s pole. Soon, fire department leaders built a second pole in the back specifically for the black firemen to use.
Pope remembered that, despite the separate accommodations, white and black firemen got along well enough. The onus was on Pope, Walker, and Small to recognize and respect boundaries. Pope recalled one instance during his second stint with the fire department representative of his attitude;
“I was on the back of the truck and they stopped on their way back from the fire to eat at a restaurant. And at that time there were two blacks…on my truck. So, we all went in, we all sat down, and the waiter came over to see what the guys wanted and he said, ‘Now, you all understand I can’t serve these boys.’ And so, my thing was I didn’t say anything, but I wondered, ‘would you have stopped us from putting out a fire if your place was burning down?’ I thought, ‘I better hold my peace.’”
For Pope, the biggest source of frustration was the lack of opportunities for career advancement. Walker and Small, who declined to take promotion exams, participated in annual training programs at Prairie View College. Pope, who did choose to take the exams, was not permitted to join them.
By the time Pope returned to Galveston in 1964 after a three-year stint in the army, he found that racial separations inside the fire department had eased. Black and white firemen had begun to eat together and to sleep in the same bedrooms. The second pole at the station had been long since removed. Nonetheless, Pope still felt that opportunities for career advancement remained limited so he left Galveston for Los Angeles in April 1965.
During the early 1960s, the fire department added more African-American firemen. Engine House No. 3 continued to provide protection service for the north side neighborhoods through most of the 1960s. An article from 1959 suggested the station also played a special role in testing new equipment. Meanwhile, the fire department continued to revamp its stations and in 1967, the city formally closed the station at 2828 Market Street.
In 2017, Galveston Historical Foundation (GHF) acquired Engine House #3 after it had fallen into a tragic state of disrepair. Designed by Galveston architect George B. Stowe and built in 1903, GHF is currently working with David Watson Architect & Associates to stabilize and reconstruct the building. A Historic State Subject Marker awarded by the Texas Historical Commission in 2018 recognizes the contributions of Lucious Pope, Leroy Small, and Genoice Walker during the integration of the firehouse in 1957. The marker was sponsored by Galveston Historical Foundation.
Shared from Galveston Historical Society