RICHMOND, Va. -- A massive mural honoring the first 10 Black career firefighters in Richmond was unveiled to a lively crowd in Jackson Ward on Friday.
The mural, depicting the ten men who were hired on July 1, 1950, was painted on the side of Mocha Temple NO 7 Shrine Club on North Second Street.
The ten Engine Company #9 firefighters honored were Charles L. Belle, William E. Brown, Douglas P. Evans, Harvey S. Hicks II, Warren W. Kersey, Bernard C. Lewis, Farrar Lucas, Arthur L. Page, Arthur C. St. John, and Linwood M. Wooldridge.
“These men were trailblazers, pioneers, during some unforgiving times in America,” Richmond Fire Chief Melvin Carter told the crowd, which included family members of the ten firefighters. “For people of color in Richmond in the 50s, to witness people of color on a firetruck in their neighborhood had to be a sense of pride, admiration and inspiration.”
Mayor Levar Stoney highlighted the struggle and sacrifice the men faced while doing their jobs during segregation.
“Imagine there’s a fire in the community that you love in the city that you love and when you show up at the fire people turn you away because you didn’t look like them,” Stoney said. “Imagine that.”
At the time, the ten men made up a mere fraction of the 500 Richmond firefighters employed. Chief Carter said a diverse workforce now makes up both Richmond Fire and Police.
“Our dad joined the fire department in 1950 and it was quite an honor. But I don’t think we really appreciated as much,” one of Arthur Pages’ daughters told the crowd. "They stayed together, they played together, and they prayed together."
Family members and the remaining firefighters signed the mural before its unveiling. The artwork was revealed to loud cheers and applause along with dancing when firefighters released a tarp tied to the club's roof.
“Tonight, when we unveil this mural, I want everyone to remember, we may be struggling today, but think about how far we’ve advanced and think about those who came before us,” Stoney explained.
Under the direction of SJT Global Arts, Sir James L. Thornhill, Jason Ford, and Kevin Orlosky completed the mural to pay tribute to the ten firefighters.
On June 14, 1963, two members of Engine Company #9, Capt. Harvey S. Hicks II and Douglas P. Evans lost their lives during a rescue attempt.
All the Black firefighters were assigned to Engine Company #9 at Fifth and Duval Streets. The firehouse was demolished in 1968 and the site was declared a historical landmark in 2000.
Engine Company #9 and Associates Inc. was organized in September 1992 as an organization of pioneer former and retired professional firefighters, law enforcement officers and associates of the City of Richmond and metropolitan area.
Mocha Temple NO. 7 Shrine Club is community-based and supports programs, health initiatives and mentorship for youth.