The Recovering Attorney’s History Minute–Meet New York City AND Harlem’s first Black Police Officer

1941 photo of the 6’3, 280 pound Battle- “Big Sam”

Here proudly stands Samuel Jesse Battle.  New York City’s first black police officer.  Battle was born in 1883 in North Carolina to parents who were former slaves.  But oddly enough, Battle’s first claim to fame had nothing to do with being appointed New York City’s first black police officer—his first time in the spotlight had all to do with his birth –he weighed in at 16 pounds–the biggest baby on record born in North Carolina.


On June 28, 1911, a century  ago, Battle was appointed to the New York City police force.  He became the first black sergeant in 1926; the first black lieutenant in 1935, and the City’s first black parole commissioner in 1941.Being sworn in as a member of  the Parole Commission

Though on the record, the Police Department considers Wiley G. Overton, who was sworn in as a police officer by the City of Brooklyn in 1891, as its first black officer—{this was before the City of Brooklyn merged with New York City in 1898}.  But Police Officer Battle was indeed the first black person appointed to New York City’s combined 10,000 member force.

Officer Battle was a Harlem resident and was a known and admired fixture on Harlem’s busy streets and boulevards.  But in spite of the love he received from Harlem’s black shopkeepers, homeowners and residents—not surprisingly, Battle’s fellow officers took umbrage with his employment.  However, in 1919, it was Officer Battle who dashed into a crowd of rioters on 135th Street and Lenox Avenue to save a fellow white officer.  That act of bravery won Battle the respect of his white co-workers.  And in 1935 it was Battle who quelled a riot in Harlem that was ignited by an arrest of an alleged 16-year-old shoplifter.  Word spread through Harlem that the 16-year-old was fatally beaten by the white shopkeeper.  It was Battle who found the boy (alive and well).  He had the boy photographed smiling and then circulated the picture of the boy throughout Harlem neighborhoods.  Battle served the NYPD until 1941.  He remained in Harlem (of course he did!) and was known as a Harlem leader who helped to organize Boy Scout troops and after school programs.  He died in 1966 at the age of eighty-three.135th and Lenox Avenue, 1941

In 2009, the Harlem intersection of 135th Street and Lenox Avenue was named Samuel Jesse Battle Plaza.  The same intersection where Battle rescued his fellow white officer in 1919.  New York City furthered recognized Battle’s service to the police force and city by hanging a plaque bearing his image at Harlem’s 32nd Precinct.

And of course Samuel Jesse Battle Plaza will be a stop on The Recovering Attorney’s historic Harlem Renaissance Tours.  I will keep you posted.  Ha!

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One Response to “The Recovering Attorney’s History Minute–Meet New York City AND Harlem’s first Black Police Officer”

  1. I like the History Minute. It’s almost a century to the day that Battle became the NYPD’s first black officer. I love little known history facts!

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