Re­mem­ber­ing black West Palm po­lice pi­o­neer Joe Bar­ber

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cers as far back as 1948. But for years, Bar­ber’s fam­ily said in an obit­u­ary no­tice, “the po­lice depart­ment had a prac­tice of hav­ing only one African Amer­i­can Lieu­tenant at a time. This Lieu­tenant su­per­vised what was known as the ‘Colored Unit’ which had a spe­cial sep­a­rate sta­tion at 1st and Rose­mary. The colored unit could not ar­rest Cau­casians or pa­trol Cau­casian neigh­bor­hoods.”

On Jan. 1, 1969, the city had about 130 of­fif­fi­cers; 18 of them were black.

That changed in May 1969. Seven black of­fif­fi­cers, claim­ing then-Chief Wil­liam M. Barnes had re­fused nu­mer­ous re­quests for change, each sub­mit­ted what they called a re­quest for a leave of ab­sence or, if that was de­nied, “my let­ter of res­ig­na­tion.” Efffffffffff­fec­tive im­me­di­ately.

The seven had asked for the trans­fer of a con­tro­ver­sial cap­tain, the re­in­state­ment of two re­cently fi­fired black of­fif­fi­cers, and a clearer de­fif­i­ni­tion of de­part­men­tal offfffffffff­fenses and their penal­ties.

In Fe­bru­ary 1969, seven of the nine afffffffffff­fected of­fif­fi­cers had fi­filed a fed­eral law­suit say­ing the depart­ment was seg­re­gated, that as­sign­ing pa­trols based on race vi­o­lated the 1965 fed­eral Civil Rights Act, and that black of­fif­fi­cers had lim­ited means to ad­vance. Bar­ber was the leader of that group.

In July 1969, a fed­eral judge dis­missed the suit. At­tor­ney Ed­ward Rodgers ap­pealed. On Jan. 26, 1971, the court rat­i­fi­fied a con­sent or­der in which the po­lice depart­ment was “per­ma­nently EN­JOINED AND RE­STRAINED” from dis­crim­i­nat­ing, or from block­ing equal op­por­tu­ni­ties for pro­mo­tion and as­sign­ment, based on race.

Rogers, now in his 90s, could not be reached for this col­umn.

Af­ter the fed­eral suit, only one of the seven of­fif­fi­cers re­turned to the West Palm Beach po­lice depart­ment.

“The only one they re­hired was my hus­band,” wi­dow Eleanor Bar­ber told The Palm Beach Post on Aug. 6. But, she said, he never was pro­moted past sergeant, even as he stayed on the force an­other quar­ter cen­tury, re­tir­ing in 1995.

“I al­ways thought he was pun­ished for the walk­out.” Eleanor Bar­ber said.

In early Au­gust, Palm Beach County Sher­iffff Ric Brad­shaw, who started at West Palm Beach in 1970 and was chief from 1996 to 2004, re­called Joe Bar­ber as “an ex­cel­lent of­fif­fi­cer and a good sergeant.”

Bar­ber is sur­vived by his wife; sons Zedrick and Tar­rence, both of West Palm Beach; and four grand­chil­dren.

Eliot Klein­berg CON­TRIB­UTED

Cleve­land “Joe” Bar­ber (left) cel­e­brates with his grand­son, at­tor­ney Zedrick Bar­ber II, af­ter Zedrick was ad­mit­ted to the Florida Bar in 2014.



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