FDNY



Curator's Notes:

Firefighting remains one of the least diverse of the “hero” professions. The first to enter the Fire Department of New York (FDNY) was Wesley Williams. Williams joined in 1919 after much resistance, despite perfect entrance exams scores and a recommendation letter from the former President Theodore Roosevelt! Eleven years later, there were 4 Black firefighters, and in 1944, there were 100, and the department was still 99.95% white. By 2002, the year Black firefighters filed a lawsuit for discrimination, there had "never been more than 650 black Bravest on a force that grew to 11,000." What was it like for Umi’s father, Aubrey J. Weeks, as an early Black firefighter? The only Black man in engine company in 1947 and one of the first Black officers assigned to Queens county in fire station #299? He served with distinction in the FDNY, as well as in the military, and dealt with Jim Crow racism in both. He worked with his fellow Black firefighters through the Vulcan Society to combat racism in the department and society more broadly. He did this as a child of Black immigrants and a child of Harlem, which is instructive for our debates on Black identity and the fight for Black freedom today.

Soldier to Firefighter
  • Soldier to Firefighter
  • New York
  • 1947
  • open
FDNY
  • FDNY
  • New York
  • 1947-1975
  • open
Vulcan Society
  • Vulcan Society
  • New York
  • 1948-1975
  • open
click (+) to access a collection         scroll right to navigate
spacer