Tag Archives: One Righteous man

Excerpted from “One Righteous Man: Samuel Battle and the Shattering of the Color Line”in New York”
On December 27, 1911, Samuel Battle rose from probationary recruit to full-fledged police officer. The newspapers took stock of the historic event, with the Times reporting: “Six months ago men thought that Battle would be hazed into resigning, or at least into asking for transfer. Now they know he isn’t that sort and he has made himself respected.” But, the paper also stated: “The ‘silence’ that began when Battle entered the Precinct last July is as deep as ever today, not because Battle is a Negro—although that was the reason at first—but because every white policeman is now afraid of what would be said to and about him if he made any attempt to bring the ‘silence’ to an end.”


The New York Sun offered an unnamed officer’s words about Battle as typical:

He has never said anything uncivil and he does more than his share of the work. For instance, one day there was a mess of a grocery cart and an automobile on Central Park West. There were three prisoners and all I could tend to under the circumstances were two. Along comes Battle on his way to the stationhouse. Says he: “Want me to take one of them in?” Breakin’ my rule about not speakin’ to him I says: “I certainly would be obliged.” So he takes the prisoner to the house as cheerful as you please; and if you know how the ordinary policeman hates to do anybody else’s work, you know what that means. But as for sayin’ “Howdydo” to Battle in the station house—not me.

The Sun reported that, at the moment, Battle was reading a work by Winston Churchill, had just finished Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles, and that he also favored best-selling author Marie Corelli, whose Thelma was a love story set in Norway. The paper noted that Battle had read Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire but that he felt it was more important to understand American history about which, the Sun concluded, “his memory is accurate.”

Never was Battle more alone, and never was he more open to scrutiny by internal affairs shoo-flies who lurked in the dark than when standing fixed post from midnight to morning. Even Inspector Max Schmittberger—the feared Schmittberger—came by personally to check. Once as corrupt as a cop could be, Schmittberger had confessed his crimes before a state senate investigating committee, emerged a hero, and become the scourge of rule breakers. Battle withstood his spying, as well as the unforgiving gaze of William Randolph Hearst, the newspaper publisher, whose windows overlooked Riverside Drive and Eighty-Sixth Street. “We used to look up at Mr. Hearst—he would come and look down on the policemen, and we were afraid not to be there,” Battle remembered.

Decades later, putting pencil to paper in the great old townhouse, he revealed the depths of the torment that dogged him:

With my fellow officers it was a sin to be a Negro, hence the fight of survival and achievement was on. It seemed that all was against me, including God, in whom I had and have a great deal of faith and to whom I prayed fervently and religiously.