Historic moment as 12 African-American law enforcement leaders reflect on civil rights history on Greensboro Four anniversary

North Carolina

GREENSBORO, N.C. — If you were to ask Sheriff Danny Rogers if he imagined being sheriff of Guilford County sixty plus years ago, his answer would have been “no.”

If you were to ask any law enforcement executive leader that question, they would more than likely give you the same answer. 

But, on Feb. 1, 2021, despite the flaws of civil justice that still create the cracks of America, Danny Rogers, Bobby Kimbrough, Catrina Thompson and Brian James are able to hold the tiles of police chief of Greensboro or Winston-Salem or sheriff of Guilford or Forsyth County. 

For the first time in the state’s history, African-Americans hold the titles of police chief, county sheriff or highway commander for six of the largest cities and six of the largest counties in the state. 

“I’m speechless,” is how Sheriff Rogers explained the moment he got to first stand side-by-side with his fellow officers, deputies and troopers. 

The gathering included sheriffs from Forsyth, Guilford, Mecklenburg, Wake, Durham, and Cumberland Counties and police chiefs from Charlotte, Durham, Fayetteville, Greensboro, Raleigh and Winston-Salem. 

After a Summer filled with protest and calls for civil justice/law enforcement reform, Winston-Salem Police Chief Catrina Thompson thought now was the time to walk through history to reflect on what has changed, and what hasn’t. 

She chose Feb. 1, to do just that. It’s not only the start to Black History Month but also the 61st anniversary of the Greensboro Four’s sit-in at Woolworth’s lunch counters. 

“It’s important to highlight the significance of this day and this location and this state,” Chief Thompson described of this moment in history. “And then to couple that with where we are in terms of law enforcement and executive leadership of African Americans here in our state.”  

The International Civil Rights Center and Museum is built around the old Woolworth’s diner and drug store. Back in 1960, it was the site where Joseph McNeil, Franklin McCain, Ezell Blair Jr. and David Richmond walked in to ask for service. When denied service due to the color of their skin, they refused to leave. 

This helped fuel the sit-in movement taking place during the Civil Rights era. 

For Chief Thompson and the other law enforcement leaders who attended Monday’s meeting, to step in and reflect on that moment allowed more perspective into what’s happened in today’s society.

“Law enforcement has been used in the past as an arm of oppression toward African Americans and to people of color,”Chief Thompson said. “And to see where we’ve come from to where we are today, I thought was worth highlighting and acknowledging not just for our current times but generations to come.” 

The event also comes at a time when local law enforcement agencies struggle to hire African American recruits.

Chief Thompson explained it has a lot to do with the past but also what we’re seeing in the present. “

Particularly those of color who look at this profession and might have an interest of being in it. With all the negativity going around with the profession, I thought it would be important for them to see people that look like them in these positions,” Chief Thompson said.

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