From NKAA, Notable Kentucky African Americans Database (main entry)

Stewart, Robert William

(born: March 1, 1850  -  died: July 27, 1931) Mike Davison who has completed extensive research on the life of Robert William Stewart suggested this entry. Davison's research is published in his blog titled "Previous Los Angeles," June 27, 2016. Robert William Stewart was one of the first two African American police officers in Los Angeles, CA. Stewart and Joseph H. Green joined the force on March 30, 1889. Robert William Stewart had come to California by a circuitous route that started in Kentucky.

Robert W. Stewart was born in Lancaster, KY, the oldest child of Faulkner and Ellen Doty Stewart. The Stewart family had been enslaved. Faulkner and Ellen Stewart lived together as man and wife with their seven children. After they gained their freedom, Faulkner and Ellen were formally married in Lincoln County, KY, on September 28, 1867. A copy of their marriage license is in The family was living in Stanford, KY, according to the 1870 U. S. Census. 

When the 1880 U.S. Census was completed, Robert W. Stewart was no longer living with his parents and siblings. He was married to Louise Coffey and had a son named William. Robert and Louise were servants in the Horace Withers household in Stanford, KY. They would leave Kentucky and moved to Jeffersonville, IN. While in Indiana, Stewart served as Grand Marshall of the United Brothers of Friendship in Indiana.

From Jeffersonville, Robert W. Stewart moved to Los Angeles, CA, in the mid-1880s. He worked in the stables of a freight hauling company. He was loyal to the Republican Party. In 1889, Stewart applied to become a Los Angeles Police officer, and he was accepted. He and Joseph Henry Green were the only African Americans approved for the force. In 1890, the police force was downsized and Green was let go.

Robert W. Stewart continued on the police force. In his community service, he served as Grand Marshall of the Grand United Order of Odd Fellows (African Americans) in California. In 1892, at the county GOP Convention, Stewart was nominated to run for the Los Angeles Township constable. Stewart resigned from the Los Angeles Police Department. He finished third in the election. Stewart was rehired in a temporary position with the Los Angeles Police Department. When Monroe Spiller was hired full time he became the third African American to be hired on the force and Stewart was let go. Spiller's employment lasted two months. With Spiller's exit, in 1893, Robert W. Stewart was rehired full-time on the Los Angeles Police Department.

In 1895, Robert W. Stewart was accused of an improper proposal toward a white woman. Stewart was exonerated. In May of 1900, Robert W. Stewart was falsely accused and arrested for the rape of a 15-year-old white girl. Stewart's attorney in the case was Kentucky-born Joseph LeCompte Davis. After two trials, Stewart was acquitted. His career on the police force was over and he was never reinstated during his lifetime. He worked as a janitor. Robert W. Stewart died in Los Angeles in 1931.

In 2021, Robert W. Stewart was posthumously recognized as the first African American on the Los Angeles Police Department and he was Honorably Reinstated on the force. 

Sources: "Previous Los Angeles," a blog by Mike Davison, 06/27/2016; "Memoranda: Robert W. Stewart ...," Los Angeles Herald, 10/01/1892, p.8; "[Police Courts.] Stewart released on bail," The Los Angeles Daily Times, 05/12/1900, p.10; "Pacific Coast Notes. Robert W. Stewart ... acquitted ...," Stockton Evening Mail, 01/01/1901; "News from the churches," Robert W. Stewart ...," The California Eagle, 08/14/1931, p.7; "Pioneer was first Negro policeman in this city," The California Eagle, 07/31/1931, front page.

Kentucky County & Region

Read about Garrard County, Kentucky in Wikipedia.
Read about Lincoln County, Kentucky in Wikipedia.

Kentucky Place (Town or City)

Read about Lancaster, Kentucky in Wikipedia.
Read about Stanford, Kentucky in Wikipedia.

Outside Kentucky Place Name

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Cite This NKAA Entry:

“Stewart, Robert William,” Notable Kentucky African Americans Database, accessed May 24, 2024,

Last modified: 2022-03-21 18:45:35