Hines recalls days as Shreveport's first black police officer

Hines recalls days as Shreveport's first black police officer
William Hines and Joe Johnson were the first black Shreveport police officers.
William Hines and Joe Johnson were the first black Shreveport police officers.

SHREVEPORT, LA (KSLA) - During the 1950's, Shreveport-Bossier was in a state of disarray. While Brown vs. The Board of Education outlawed segregated public schools in 1954, the Civil Rights act wouldn't end all state and local laws requiring segregation until 10 years later. The city of Shreveport would see an act of integration in it's police force in 1954, after hiring its first black police officer, William Hines. Hines, 87 years old today, is not only part of history but he paved the way for other black and female officers to have the same, if not better opportunities.

Hines, now a reverend, keeps a scrap book of articles, mementos and pictures all collected from his early years in the military and the police force. Born in Bossier Parish, Rev. Hines grew up in Mira, Louisiana on a plantation. He went to a school where teachers would often dismiss class in the fall so children could help pick cotton.  He describes it as "working from can until can't." In 1948, he moved to San Francisco, CA to live with a cousin. With no high school diploma, he took odd jobs here and there until he was drafted into the army and sent to Fort Chaffee, AR in 1950. The following year, he was sent to fight in the Korean war.

After being discharged and joining the active reserve, Hines moved to Shreveport, this time on a mission to get his high school diploma.

"Was going to school at night at Booker T. Washington to finish high school. That's the only place black veterans could go," Hines says.

During those times, the Shreveport Police Department was all white.  That was until the Shreveport Police Commissioner was pushed to make a change.

"The Negro Chamber of Commerce had challenged the new commissioner to hire some black policemen. So he said, 'If you find me some, I'll hire them.'"

The President of the Negro Chamber of Commerce at the time brought police applications to Booker T. Washington that night, where several black veterans were. Among them was a young William Hines. Hines filled out his application, turned it in and and it was accepted. He was told to report to Byrd High School for an exam.

"I got out there. About 80 whites were taking a test and they say, 'Ooh look we going to have a "N" policeman here."

Through the taunts, Hines stayed, passing the exam and joining the police force.

"The white chief of police had just been killed by a black man in Bossier, so racial tension is high, high, high."

Never officially trained to be on the job, Hines was primarily assigned to police blacks only. Almost a year later, a second black officer was hired. For years, Hines and Joe Johnson walked their beat before being given a police unit.

"If we had to arrest somebody for being drunk. We'd call the station they'd send the paddy wagon to pick us up. I said, can I take a car just to sit in at night because they don't want you to sit in the bars. They said, 'No, if you don't like what it is, go home.' They wanted us to leave, they wanted us to say that blacks couldn't handle it."

Hines was also on the force when one of Shreveport's most notable civil rights events took place at Little Union Baptist Church.

"They wanted to parade, all of those kids from Booker T. Washington, down too Little Union Church, that was just one block but D'Artois said 'there will be no parade.'"

At the time, George D'Artois was the Commissioner of Public Safety and was known to run the city with an iron fist.

"When we got to the church, a big crowd gathered. He said, 'Get off the streets and in the church.' I was right there."

According to Hines, after everyone was herded into the church, all police officers were told to disperse and return to the station, but D'Artois stayed behind. Later that night, Hines was called back to Little Union. When he arrived, he found civil rights activist and pastor Harry Blake had been injured.

"I went upstairs and Dr. Blake was bleeding. He said Hines, 'Your commissioner beat me up. It wasn't no police officer, it was the Commissioner of Public Safety.' D'Artois say, 'You think you bad now, you don't have your crowd here so I'm going to show you that you ain't as bad as you think you are.'"

Hines was only one of four blacks on the force at that time. While he tried his best to protect those who protested against racial discrimination, he was still on the other side of the line.

"Caught between a rock and a hard place. Like in the meetings, I know what's going on and then I would know what he planned. I'll tell, Blake and Jones you know what's going to happen, how to handle this tactic. So I would kind of go between."

After 21 years on the force, Hines decided he had seen enough. In 1973, he filed suit against D'Artois and the city of Shreveport, but he would run into hurdles.

"'Man you know what you doing?' The minister of fellowship said, 'You know what you doing? Going up against D'Artois!' I said, 'Look man, I'm not afraid of D'Artois.' I had seen enough, and I guess that's why I wanted to be a police officer. On the plantation I saw the white officers, just misuse blacks so much and I guess it really grew a hate. I said if I ever got a chance to be a policeman I'm going to straighten this out."

With the lawsuit pending, Hines was targeted by D'Artois. He was followed by other officers and bribed but he pushed forward with the suit, forcing the department to promote more black officer and allow them to work in all parts of the city.

Looking back, Reverend Hines says he does not regret the actions he took

"It's been a long road, but I look back and I never lost a night of sleep because I never misused nobody. I police from the heart, I always put myself on the other side of that line."

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