On June 28, Samuel Battle, a 6-foot-2, 285-pound 28-year-old who lived in Clinton (now known as Hell’s Kitchen), began his duties as Greater New York’s first black police officer (two who served the former city of Brooklyn had been absorbed into the metropolitan force earlier).
Appointed by Commissioner Rhinelander Waldo, Battle recalled:
My friends, and some that were not friends, said it was ridiculous: that I could never be appointed because of my color. But I said that what one could do another could, and was not willing to admit any inferiority. I stuck to it and got the appointment on my merits.
Samuel Jesse Battle (b. January 16, 1883 in New Bern, North Carolina) (died August 7, 1966) was the first black police officer in the city of Brooklyn, later New York City. After attending segregated schools in North Carolina, Battle moved north, first to Connecticut, then to New York City, where he took a job as a train porter and began studying for the New York City Police Department civil service exam. He was sworn in on March 6, 1911.
His brother-in-law was Patrolman Moses P. Cobb, who started working for the Brooklyn Police force in the early 1890s before the unification of NYC and acted as Battle's mentor. "Big Sam" as he was known - 6'3", / 280 pounds, earned the respect of his fellow Officers after saving ones life in the early 1920s. They subsequently voted to allow him into the Sargent's academy. As the NYPD's first black Lieutenant, during the intense Harlem Riots of 1935 - after 3 days of violence he circulated fliers of himself with the young boy smiling who had allegedly been murdered in the basement of the Kress Department store.
He joined the force in 1911, assigned first to San Juan Hill, the neighborhood where Lincoln Center is today, which preceded Harlem as one of the key African American neighborhoods in Manhattan. He was soon moved to Harlem, as the African American population there grew. He would later become the first African American police sergeant (1926), lieutenant (1935), and the first African American parole commissioner (1941).
In 1941, Battle began work as a parole commissioner, working with delinquent youths in Harlem. He initiated rehabilitation programs, such as summer camps and sports activities for the youth of Harlem. During a 1943 race riot, triggered by the shooting of an African-American suspect by a white police officer, Battle, at the request of New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia, was called in to quell the Harlem area where the riot erupted. Battle retired as parole commissioner in 1951 but remained active in community activities for the Harlem area.
* On August 4, 2009, the intersection of West 135th St and Lenox Avenue in Harlem was officially renamed in his honor.