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Samuel J. Battle became the NYPD’s first Black police officer on June 28, 1911 in a swearing-in ceremony, going on to break other barriers as well. After nearly derailing his life as a teenager, Battle was determined to prove his doubters wrong.

Battle was born January 16, 1833 in New Bern, N.C. As a teenager, he was caught stealing cash from his supervisor’s safe, who said the boy would end up in prison within a year’s time. In interviews, Battle said that was the turning point in his life and motivated him to succeed.

In 1901, Battle eventually settled in New York and worked a few odd jobs. Motivated by his brother, Brooklyn police officer Moses Cobb, he decided to follow in his footsteps. The city forces merged in 1898, thus Battle’s historic distinction.

Battle was initially assigned to the San Juan Hill section of New York, now known as Lincoln Center, a predominately Black area at the time. He was later transferred to Harlem becoming a well-known figure in the famous neighborhood. Battle endured racism and harassment from white officers and civilians, but his peers began to appreciate his effectiveness and legendary strength.

With the endorsement of white officers whose respect he earned after protecting a white colleague from an angry Black mob, Battle took and aced the sergeant’s exam, becoming the NYPD’s first to hold that title before becoming the first Black lieutenant for the force. Mayor Fiorella LaGuardia asked Battle to help out with riots in Harlem and made him a personal aide.

Battle passed in 1966 at the age of 81.