He broke barriers!
Flint, Michigan honored the city’s first Black firefighter by renaming a station after him, ABC 12 news reports.
88-year-old Joseph Davis Jr. is no stranger to a uniform, wearing 3 throughout his life, one as a scout, another as an Army soldier, and the last as a Flint firefighter. He joined the Flint Fire Department in 1961, making history as the first Black person to ever become a firefighter in the city. While it wasn’t easy, Davis fought through racism and discrimination to pave the way for others after him, calling the fire station a shelter of sorts.
“The Big House here gave me shelter. It allowed me to find a hiding place where I could get away from the racial slurs and loud riff-raff. You see, there were a lot of good whites on the department, but they were enslaved because if they became friends to me, they would become a minority lover,” Davis recalled.
For 24 years he served the department, never quitting despite its challenges. Now the city has awarded him for his contributions, renaming Flint Fire Station No. 1 in his honor. Davis was joined at the ceremony by his son Jesse, who is also a Flint firefighter, and a host of family and community members to celebrate the momentous occasion. Flint Fire Chief Raymond Barton called him a “pioneer” in the community.
“He made it through so given the opportunity, African-Americans knew it, so I feel it's a big part of why I am here and I am the chief today,” said Barton.
His son Jesse also thanked his Dad for blazing a trail that allowed him to follow in his footsteps.
“I couldn’t imagine just how tough it was to be a Black man to be coming through the doors and being the only Black man for 12 years…Dad, thank you for doing what you did. I am glad you didn’t quit because all else would have failed. I don’t know what this department would be like today, but because of you it is what it is today,” said Jesse.
Many others gave speeches honoring Davis too, including Samuel Stewart IV, a former fire union president who suggested the station be named in Davis’ honor, MLive.com reports.
Stewart said he first met Davis when he was in the second grade. He shook his hand and asked him how he was doing and it stuck with Stewart ever since then.
“He was the fabric of the fire department to bring all races and colors together. His story needed to be told,” said Stewart.
The Flint City Council voted unanimously in favor of the name change and Flint Mayor Sheldon Neeley and Barton presented Davis with an award commemorating the renaming. Davis was proud of the accomplishment while addressing the crowd of supporters gathered at the firehouse for the festivities.
“When I applied to the job here, it wasn’t to break any barrier or do anything of that nature. I was looking for a substantial job that I could support my family and have a good living…[The station] is like a partner to me. It’s the fact that now it has a formal name, and that name is Joe Davis Jr.,” boasted Davis.
The Joe Davis Jr. Fire Station is located at 310 East Fifth Street in Flint, Michigan.
Congratulations Mr. Davis! Because of you, we can!
Photo Courtesy of Zachary Clingenpeel/MLive.com