ONE RIGHTEOUS MAN by Arthur Browne


Samuel Battle and the Shattering of the Color Line in New York
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A veteran New York City journalist relates the dramatic saga of the first uniformed African-American police officer.

New York Daily News editorial page editor Browne (co-author: I, Koch: A Decidedly Unauthorized Biography of the Mayor of New York City, Edward I. Koch, 1985) never met Samuel Battle (1883-1966), but he decided to write Battle's biography due to an unusual resource: an unpublished manuscript based on Battle's conversations with African-American poet Langston Hughes. In 1949, Battle hired Hughes to interview him and produce a manuscript. Hughes needed money, so he assented. However, according to Browne, Hughes' detachment led to a low-quality work that was rejected by multiple publishers. As a result, Battle died without a wide readership understanding the impressive accomplishment of a courageous cop who broke the racial barrier, at frequent risk to his safety. Battle rightly feared street thugs encountered during his daily work, but mostly, he feared the white police officers, most of whom exhibited overt racism. Some New York cops aimed racist comments at Battle, but most of them gave him the silent treatment, literally never speaking to him, hoping he would feel so isolated that he would quit. Reared in small-town North Carolina, Battle had learned how to deal with racism, and he felt determined to show the police command and the New York City mayor that his performance could match or outpace any other cop’s. Eventually, enough powerful New York City individuals recognized Battle's abilities, and he was promoted to the rank of supervisor, where he was in charge of many white officers. Browne also explains Battle's major role in the New York Fire Department's racial integration, as well as the friendships he developed with prominent figures, including first lady Eleanor Roosevelt and boxing champion Sugar Ray Robinson.

An occasionally rambling but especially timely book, given recent tragedies involving certain police forces across the country.

Pub Date: June 30th, 2015
ISBN: 978-0-8070-1260-4
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: Beacon
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 2015


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