Officer Garson McLeod was my superhero

Published 5:00 pm Monday, January 29, 2024

I am so grateful for the wonderful comments I receive about this column, especially from readers who want to know more about me growing up in Washington. Recently I was asked who was my favorite person that lived on Fourth Street, (now Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive.) I have so many it was hard to choose, but I did want to tell you about the superhero of my young childhood, that while he did not live on Fourth Street, he walked almost the length of Fourth Street every day.

My superhero was Officer Garson McLeod. Mr. McLeod, as we children called him was truly a kind and wonderful man. He was Washington’s first Black police officer.
In July of 1953, the Washington City League which was comprised of some of the most influential Black citizens, met at Washington’s I. B. Turner Library (the only Black Library in Beaufort County) and together decided to ask the Washington City Council to appoint a Black policeman for its community.

Several other cities had Black policemen and the League said it was time Washington had one too. Several candidates were considered but none came as highly recommended as 32-year-old Garson McLeod, who had served for three and a half years in Durham, NC. On Jan. 1, 1954, Officer McLeod, a Veteran of World War 2, began his duty as Washington’s first Black policeman.

On the first day of his ‘beat,’ (a specific area or territory a police officer is assigned) which included Fourth Street, he was met with celebratory cheers, well wishes, homemade cakes and pictures the neighborhood children drew for him. He was so handsome and impressive. He became well loved by the children and greatly respected by the adults. It was a sad day in 1958 when he announced he was going back to Durham to take a job offer that would make him the first Black Deputy Sheriff in Durham County. That appointment made Jet Magazine in December 1958 as well as many newspapers across the county.

I was amazed and delighted to see my superhero making national news February 16, 1960, alongside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at a Civil Rights ‘sit-in’ in a Durham Woolworth Department Store. In the photo, he is shown with his back to the camera facing Dr. King. Sit-ins were a nonviolent movement of the Civil Rights era, that began at a Greensboro Woolworth lunch counter by four young black NC Agricultural and Technical College on February 1, 1960. The sit-ins were later successful both in forcing partial integration and increasing the awareness of the indignities Black people suffered in the southern United States. The movement that started with the four Black college students eventually spread to 55 cities in thirteen states with 70,00 men and women participating. And my superhero Mr. (Officer) Garson McLeod was there to guide some of them on.

Leesa Jones is a Washington native and the co-curator of the Washington Waterfront Underground Railroad Museum.