Complete A-Z list

Complete list of sources

Recent Additions / Updates

About NKAA

NKAA Brochure

African American Library Directors in the USA

Links of Interest

staff only

University of Kentucky Libraries

Notable Kentucky African Americans Database


Return to search page.

Adams, William T.
Birth Year : 1912
Death Year : 1974
When the second African American firehouse in Louisville, KY, opened in 1937, Adams was among the first group of firemen. In 1939 he was promoted to lieutenant, and in 1941 he became a captain. Adams would become the first African American put in charge of a predominantly white company in Louisville. He was named assistant chief in 1967. For more see B. M. Tyler, "William T. Adams (1912-1974): African-American firefighter, Louisville, Kentucky," Filson Club History Quarterly, vol. 73, issue 3, pp. 284-293. See photo image of William T. Adams on p.46 in African-American Life in Louisville by B. M. Tyler [at Google Books]

Subjects: Firefighters
Geographic Region: Louisville, Jefferson County, Kentucky

Best, James L.
Birth Year : 1944
Death Year : 2013
James Best, born in Lexington, KY, was the first African American firefighter to be promoted to the rank of captain in the Lexington Fire Department. He joined the department in 1970 and retired in 2008, having served for 38 years. He was also host of the educational show "In Case of Fire" that aired on the local government television channel GTV. James Best was an active member of he Historic Pleasant Green Missionary Baptist Church, and was elected to the church's Hall of Fame in recognition of his public service and work with youths. James Best was the husband of Karen I. Best. He was the son of Lottie Mae Best Riley. For more see J. Kegley, "Firefighter was a pioneer - first black to be promoted to captain," Lexington Herald-Leader, 02/07/2013, p.A5.
Subjects: Firefighters, Television
Geographic Region: Lexington, Fayette County, Kentucky

Brooks, Cynthia
Cynthia Brooks is Assistant Chief (Lt. Col.) of the Louisville, Kentucky Fire Department.  She is in charge of minority affairs and recruitment.  
Subjects: Firefighters
Geographic Region: Louisville, Jefferson County, Kentucky

Cowan, Brenda D.
Birth Year : 1963
Death Year : 2004
Brenda D. Cowan was born in Sturgis, KY. In 1992, she became the first African American woman firefighter in Lexington, KY. Cowan was killed in the line of duty, February 13, 2004. She was the daughter of Ella and Rev. Tabb Cowen, Sr. She was a sister of Fred Cowan. See Lexington Herald-Leader, Feb. 14-20, 2004.

See photo images and additional information about Brenda D. Cowan at the website.
Subjects: Firefighters
Geographic Region: Sturgis, Union County, Kentucky / Lexington, Fayette County, Kentucky

Davis, Van, Jr.
Birth Year : 1929
Death Year : 1991
Van Davis, Jr. was born in Louisville, KY, the son of Mannie and Van Davis, Sr. He was the leading plaintiff in a discrimination lawsuit against Los Angeles County. Davis became the first African American firefighter with the Los Angeles Fire Department in 1953. He was also a veteran of the U.S. Navy. For more see "Behind the Scenes, Van Davis, Jr.," a County of Los Angeles Fire Department website.

Subjects: Activists, Civil Rights, Firefighters, Migration West, Military & Veterans, Court Cases
Geographic Region: Louisville, Jefferson County, Kentucky / Los Angles, California

Drake, John B., Jr.
Birth Year : 1943
In 1969, John Drake, Jr. became the first African American firefighter in Lexington, KY. In 1991, Drake, a 22 year veteran, was Lexington's Firefighter of the Year. He was promoted to Lieutenant on January 13, 1992. John Drake was born in Lexington, KY, and lived in Michigan and Wisconsin. He returned to Lexington and was employed at the TRANE Corporation before becoming a firefighter. In 1969, the decision was made by the city of Lexington to hire Black firefighters, Drake applied and was hired. For more see B. Neumann, "Lexington firefighter provides positive public image," Lexington Herald-Leader, 02/27/1991, Community section, p. 10; and History of Black Firefighters by K. L. Jackson.
Subjects: Firefighters
Geographic Region: Lexington, Fayette County, Kentucky

Engine Co. #8 (Louisville, KY)
Start Year : 1872
The #8 firehouse was located at 725 S. 13th and Maple Streets in Louisville. The house had been built in 1872 and was used by an all-white fire company until December, 1923, when ten African Americans were hired for Louisville's first African American fire department. In 1937 a second African American firehouse was established at Roseland and Jackson Streets. Roy Stanley was the first African American to ride out of an integrated fire house in Louisville. For more see M. Young, "Exhibit features Black firefighters," The Louisville Defender, 03/12/1992, p. 2.
Subjects: Firefighters
Geographic Region: Louisville, Jefferson County, Kentucky

Jackson, Keith L.
Birth Year : 1965
In June 2012, Keith Jackson became the first African American to be named Chief of the Lexington Division of Fire and Emergency Services. The appointment was made by Mayor Jim Gray. Jackson is a 21 year veteran and served for more than a year as the interim chief. He is a graduate of the University of Kentucky and author of the unpublished manuscript History of Black Firefighters. For more see "City names new fire chief, " at WKYT 27 Newsfirst, 06/28/2012 [online]; "Lexington's first Black fire chief named," ;The Key Newsjournal, 06/28/2012 [online].

See photo image and article about Keith Jackson - - B. Fortune, "Mayor Gray appoints Keith Jackson as Lexington Fire Chief," Lexington Herald-Leader, 06/28/2012 [online].

Subjects: Firefighters
Geographic Region: Lexington, Fayette County, Kentucky

Johnson, Lawrence E.
Birth Year : 1932
Death Year : 1978
Johnson was the first African American member and deputy fire chief of LaGrange Fire and Rescue Squad, from 1970-1978. Information submitted by Ruby Booker of LaGrange, KY.
Subjects: Firefighters
Geographic Region: La Grange, Oldham County, Kentucky

Lexington Fraternal Order of Black Firefighters
Start Year : 1990
The following information comes from the unpublished manuscript, History of Black Firefighters, written by Keith L. Jackson in 1991, for the Lexington, KY Chapter of the International Association of Black Professional Fire Fighters (IABPFF). The Lexington Fraternal Order of Black Firefighters was formed in May, 1990, the first IABPFF chapter in Kentucky. Some of the founding members were Michael Horton, Clarence Jones, James Kyner, and Beverly Baker. There had been an earlier firefighter's association in Lexington, formed in the 1980s, and named the Brothers Loving Others and Opposing Destruction (BLOOD). The chapter was reorganized and the name was changed in 1990. According to Jackson, the first two African American firefighters were hired by the City of Lexington in 1969: John Drake and Charles Lindsey. In 1992, Brenda Cowan became the first African American woman firefighter and member of the Lexington Chapter of the IABPFF. A second chapter of the IABPFF was located in Louisville, KY.
Subjects: Firefighters, Fraternal Organizations, Women's Groups and Organizations
Geographic Region: Lexington, Fayette County, Kentucky

Ponder, Raymond
Birth Year : 1929
Raymond Ponder was born in Louisville, KY, the son of Betsy Crawford and Hessy Ponder; Alberta Jones was his first cousin. Ponder began his career as a firefighter in 1954 and was promoted to sergeant in 1963. He was the first African American fire inspector in the city of Louisville. He was promoted to lieutenant in 1965, captain in 1966, major in 1970, and became the first African American district fire chief before retiring in 1977. He is the husband of Flora Bell Ponder. For more see Profiles of Contemporary Black Achievers of Kentucky, by J. B. Horton. Additional information provided by Ms. Nicole M. Martin.
Subjects: Firefighters
Geographic Region: Louisville, Jefferson County, Kentucky

Rudder, John Earl, Jr. [John Rudder and Doris Rudder v United States of America]
Birth Year : 1925
John E. Rudder, Jr., born in Paducah, KY, was the first African American to receive a regular commission in the U.S. Marine Corps. He was a graduate of the Naval Reserve Officers' Training Corps. Rudder had enlisted in 1943 and served with the 51st Defense Battalion. He was discharged in 1946 and enrolled in Purdue University, where he was awarded an NROTC midshipman contract. He received his commission in 1948, was appointed a 2nd Lieutenant, then sent to Marine Corps Basic School in Quantico, Virginia. Rudder resigned his commission in 1949; the resignation was handled quietly by the press and the Marine Corps. Rudder's commission had come at a time when the Marine Corps was being challenged about its segregation policies. Rudder, his wife Doris, and their children settled in Washington, D.C., and in 1952 lived in a two bedroom apartment in the Lincoln Heights Dwellings. John became a cab driver; he would have a hard time keeping a job and eventually was expelled from Howard University Law School. In 1953, the Rudders were one of more than a million tenants of the federal housing projects required to sign the Certificate of Non-membership in Subversive Organizations. Families who refused to sign the certificate and refused to leave the premises were served with an eviction notice and a suit for possession. The Rudders filed suit against the action. The lower courts decided in favor of the National Capital Housing Authority [manager of the property owned by the United States]. The Rudders filed an appeal; in 1955 the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington affirmed a judgment for the Rudders, and the eviction notice was withdrawn. By 1967, the FBI had accumulated eight volumes of surveillance materials on the Rudders. John was labeled a Communist. The Rudders had participated in anti-discrimination and anti-war rallies and marches and picket lines in front of downtown D.C. stores and restaurants. John Rudder said that he had refused the FBI's offer to become a government informant. Rudder was a Quaker and his wife Doris was white and Jewish; they had five children. Their sons Eugene and Karl grew up to become activists. In 1977, their daughter Miriam was denied clearance by the FBI for a research aide position with the congressional committee investigating the assassinations of the Kennedys and Martin Luther King Jr. The clearance was denied because of her parents' protest activities. In 1978, their daughter Beatrice became the first female firefighter in Washington, D.C. John and Doris had become teachers and actors. John had appeared in the plays "Black Like Me" and "The Great White Hope." In 1981, two weeks before John and Doris were to appear in the play "Getting Out," they appeared on the television show 60 Minutes with their daughter Miriam to discuss what they saw as government harassment, including Miriam's employment denial. John E. Rudder, Jr. is the son of John Sr. and Beatrice Rudder. For more see African Americans and ROTC, by C. Johnson; "The Postwar Marine Corps," chapter 10 of Integration of the Armed Forces 1940-1965, by M. J. MacGregor, Jr. [available online at Project Gutenberg]; John Rudder and Doris Rudder, Appellants v. United States of America, Appellee , No. 12313, 226 F.2d 51, 96 U.S.App.D.C. 329 [online at]; T. Morgan, "Family of 'Subversives' pays a high price," Washington Post, 04/06/1981, First section, p. A1; J. Lardner, "John and Doris Rudder," Washington Post, 03/15/1981, Style, Show, Limelight section, p. K3; and J. Stevens, "First woman dons uniform of District Fire Department," Washington Post, 04/06/1978, District Weekly D section, p. C5. See also the 60 Minutes transcript v.XIII, no.24, as broadcast over the CBS Television Network, Sunday, March 1, 1981 [online]: with Morley Safer, John Rudder, Doris Rudder, Miriam Rudder, and U.S. Representative Louis Stokes (1925-1996) - titled " 'Sins" of the Fathers...," pp.6-11, at the Harold Weisberg Archive Digital Collection at Hood College.
Subjects: Activists, Civil Rights, Actors, Actresses, Education and Educators, Fathers, Firefighters, Housing Authority, The Projects, Migration North, Military & Veterans, Court Cases, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)
Geographic Region: Paducah, McCracken County, Kentucky / Washington, D.C.

Sheffield, Arthur A., Jr.
Birth Year : 1946
In 1973, Arthur Sheffield, Jr. became the first African American fireman in Covington, KY.


See photo image of Arthur Sheffield, Jr. at the Faces and Places, NKy Photographic Archives, Kenton County Public Library website.
Subjects: Firefighters
Geographic Region: Covington, Kenton County, Kentucky

Stonestreet, Frederick M., Sr.
Birth Year : 1858
Death Year : 1931
F. M. Stonestreet, Sr. was born in Kentucky, the son of Lucinda "Lucy" Stonestreet (1837-1897), a widow who was also born in KY. The family moved to Missouri, then on to Kansas in 1862. Fred Stonestreet and his family members may have been slaves in Kentucky. Their last destination was Topeka, KS, where Fred, his mother, and grandmother, Matilda Miller (b.1800 in KY), all lived on Madison Street. Lucy Stonestreet took in washing and ironing to support the family, according to the Topeka City Directory for 1868-69. In 1880, Fred Stonestreet, Sr. worked at the statehouse in Topeka, and in 1883, he was reassigned as a messenger. In 1902, he was the marshal of the city courts in Topeka. Prior to becoming a marshal, he was the first African American fireman in Topeka. He had also won the 1894 election to become a constable, was re-elected in 1896, and when the city court was developed, he was appointed a marshal by Kansas Governor Stanley, and won the election to become the first elected marshal of Topeka. In 1892, Stonestreet was listed on p.26 of the Eight Biennial Report of the Board of Directors of the Kansas State Historical Society for his donation of a book [online at Google Books]. Fred Stonestreet was the husband of Mary Frances "Fannie" Stonestreet (1862-1909). In 1885, the couple had a one year old son, Fred Jr., and shared their home with Fred Sr.'s mother and great-grandmother, according to the Kansas State Census. The family was also listed in the 1895 Kansas State Census, Matilda Miller had died, and Fred and Fannie had two more children. In 1897, Fred's mother, Lucy Stonestreet, died. By 1900, Fred and Fannie had four children, and they would lose their youngest child, Clarence (b.1899), to illness. In 1903, Fred was co-owner of an undertaking business with G. W. Hamilton: "Stonestreet & Hamilton, Successors to J. M. Knight. Undertakers and Funeral Directors" [source: ad in Plaindealer, 10/02/1903, p.3]. Fannie and Fred had their last child, Bernice, in 1905. Fannie died in 1909. According to the 1910 U.S. Federal Census, Fred was still an undertaker and was assisted by his sons Fred, Jr. (b.1882) and Wilbur (b.1889). He had a new business partner and the business was named "Stonestreet and Gaines, Undertakers and Embalmers [source: ad in Plaindealer, 03/04/1910, p.8]. Fred Jr. died in 1912. Fred Sr. and Wilbur became the owners of the Stonestreet and Sons funeral business. In 1920, Fred and Wilbur were still in business, and Fred and his youngest daughter, Bernice, were living with Fred's oldest daughter Daisy and her family on Woodward Avenue. Bernice, who was a sickly child, died in 1922. Wilbur died in 1930. Fred Stonestreet outlived all but one of his children, Daisy Stonestreet Carper (1893-1985). Fred Stonestreet was a leading politician and businessman in Topeka, he was a land owner, and was active in the community. He belonged to several organizations, including serving as secretary of the Mt. Moriah No. 5 A. F. and A. M., in 1894 he was elected high priest of Lincoln Chapter No.2 R.A.M., and he was president of the Benjamin Banneker Club. In 1892, he was a delegate to the Kansas Republican Convention that was held in Hutchinson. For more see "A card on the Stonestreet matter," Topeka Tribune, 07/15/1880, p.1; "Topeka whispers," Western Recorder, 06/21/1883, p.3; "After a long and painful illness, Mrs. Lucinda Stonestreet...," Enterprise, 02/27/1897, p.3; "Clarence Stonestreet ...," Plaindealer, 08/02/1901, p.3; "F. M. Stonestreet..." Plaindealer, 12/19/1902, p.7; "Gone but not forgotten, Mrs. Mary Frances Stonestreet...," Plaindealer, 05/14/1909, p.5; "The Funeral of Fred M. Stonestreet, Jr...," The Topeka Daily Capital, 01/15/1912; "Obituary, Bernice Zerelda Stonestreet," Plaindealer, 04/21/1922, p.2; "Wilbur F. Stonestreet local undertaker dead," Plaindealer, 05/30/1930, p.1; "Local news," Topeka Call, 05/08/1892, p.1; 8th item in the column "Capital city news," Leavenworth Herald, 05/19/1894, p.2; and "Mr. Fred M. Stonestreet passed away...," Plaindealer, 02/06/1931, p.1.
Subjects: Businesses, Firefighters, Migration West, Corrections and Police, Undertakers, Cemeteries, Coroners, & Obituaries, Fraternal Organizations
Geographic Region: Kentucky / Missouri / Topeka, Kansas

Swope, William "Bill", Jr.
In April 2008, Bill Swope became the first African American to be named the State Fire Marshal for Kentucky. The appointment was made by Governor Steven Beashear. At the time of the appointment, Bill Swope was a 23 year veteran of the Lexington Division of Fire and Emergency Services. For more information see "Meet the state fire marshall," NASFM News, May 2009 [online .pdf].

  See photo image of William B. Swope at "State Fire Marshal Named," a Department of Public Protection news release at the website.
Subjects: Firefighters
Geographic Region: Lexington, Fayette County, Kentucky / Frankfort, Franklin County, Kentucky

Wilson, Arthur H.
Birth Year : 1915
Wilson was the first African American hired by the City of Maysville, KY, and by the Maysville Fire Department. The assignment was only temporary until the regular employee returned from the service. For more see Human Rights News, Oct. 1961, p. 4, col. B.
Subjects: Firefighters, First City Employees & Officials (1960s Civil Rights Campaign)
Geographic Region: Maysville, Mason County, Kentucky


Return to the search page.