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Milwaukee’s First African-American Police Officer Sworn In This Week In 1924

Vintage Wisconsin: Women, Minorities Still Lag Behind White Men In Police Forces

Judson Walter Minor Jr. and Vernice E. Chenault Gallimore
Photos courtesy of Milwaukee County Historical Society/Wisconsin Women Making History

On Oct. 13, 1924, Judson Walter Minor Jr. took the oath to join the Milwaukee Police Department. He was the city’s first African-American officer.

Born in Georgia in 1897, Minor had come to Milwaukee in 1918. He joined the force in 1924 and was assigned to the Third Ward. His tenure with the force was short lived, however. His captain praised his work, but Minor resigned in 1926 due to discrimination and the large number of false accusations lodged against him. Minor remained in Milwaukee and later worked as a crane operator in a steel mill.

More than 20 years later, the first African-American woman joined the force. Vernice E. Chenault Gallimore was appointed to the Milwaukee Police Department on June 7, 1946. Her appointment, along with another woman that same day, brought the number of women on the force to four.

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Gallimore had grown up in Kentucky and earned a master’s degree in social work, a very common background for a woman in law enforcement at the time. She was forced to give up her position with the police department after the birth of her first child in 1955. She later became a probation officer.

Milwaukee hired its first female officers in 1922, two years before Minor. Women had worked as police matrons beginning in the 1880s, a job that included searching female inmates, accompanying women to court, laundry and general housekeeping of the station house. Matrons worked all hours of the day, expected to be ready whenever a woman came into custody.

The policewomen who joined the force in the 1920s worked primarily with women and children in more of a protective role. Unusual for the time, married women were allowed to apply for the force. Most employers in the early part of the 20th century required women to be single.

The decision to hire women and African-Americans was largely the work of Chief Jacob Laubenheimer who insisted appointments and promotions should be based on merit rather than politics. Laubenheimer was also notable for establishing the first Police Training Academy in the world.

If the appointment of women and African-Americans to the police force seems hardly notable in the 21st century, consider that Superior got its first black officer this year, nearly a century after Minor came to Milwaukee.

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