Memorial scholarship to honour Dartmouth's first black police officer

Memorial scholarship to honour Dartmouth's first black police officer

Sinclair Williams never set out to be a police officer.

The East Preston, N.S., native was employed as a maintenance worker at Halifax's Camp Hill Veterans Memorial hospital in the 60s when Calvin Ruck, then a social development officer for the community, told him the Dartmouth police force was looking to hire blacks.

Immediately after an interview with the police chief in July 1968, Williams was hired as the force's first black police officer and began formal training. He was 25. 

Williams didn't think he stood a chance at getting a job, recalled his widow, Dolly Williams.

"He said he went in as like a joke, expecting not to be hired," Williams recently told CBC News. "The community was excited. They were shocked as well."

Williams's hiring was announced in his church and the local paper.

"The community was excited because in our community, even to go to school, it only went to Grade 8. We had to pay to go into the City of Dartmouth to get educated," said Williams.

Memorial scholarship

Sinclair Williams's policing career was cut short in the late 1980s when he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. He died in 2014 at the age of 71. 

On Saturday, his family is expected to launch a memorial scholarship in his name during a dinner and dance at the East Preston Recreation Centre. The scholarship will benefit black students going into policing.

"Sinclair always wanted to see more young blacks on the police department," said Dolly Williams. "He felt they needed to be there."

Williams's early life was filled with tragedy. He was just five years old when his father died. In 1959, at the age of 15, Williams lost his mother and four nieces and nephews in a house fire.

"Sinclair and his brother James tried to help them to get out and Sinclair had one of the kids by the hand but the fire got so (hot), they had to let the children go," said Williams.

There was no fire department in East Preston at the time. So Sinclair ran barefoot in the snow to get help at the nearest neighbour's home that had a telephone.

"It's still hard to talk about," Dolly said, choking back tears. "They both had scars from that, trying to save (their family). And they both kind of blamed themselves for not being able to save the kids."

A few years later, Williams became a founding member and the first captain of the District 8 volunteer fire department's East Preston unit. 

Three years before Williams died, Halifax-based Pink Dog Productions told his story in a documentary. 

'Not about being first'

Before his death, Williams shared some thoughts about his career for a booklet about his community.

"As I go back through this journey of being first, it was not about being first," he told the author of Memories from East Preston Volume II.

"It was about a career that I deserved to have. I trained for it and it was a better way of life for me and my family. I wanted to help others."

Williams, a fellow officer and a civilian once rescued a man who was about to jump into the water from the Angus L. Macdonald Bridge. Another time, Williams helped deliver a baby in a police car.

But as Dartmouth's first black police officer, he faced many hurdles, especially in the first few years.

"But with my supportive co-workers and supervisors, it became easier and I began to feel safer," Williams said.

Racism on the job

Williams once had to report a Dartmouth judge who called him the N-word inside the courthouse. That judge later apologized. Williams also heard racial slurs from some officers. He challenged those, too. He was determined not to quit so that other blacks would follow in his footsteps.

His former police partner, George Beck, said Williams served his community with integrity despite obstacles he faced on the job early in his career.

"He was calm, cool and collected and he was a professional. You could sense that when we were on a call or we were just talking in general," said Beck, who worked as Williams's partner from 1973 to 1975.

"He would take the lead as a senior officer so I learned so much in the way he would handle the calls at the initial stage and, generally, becoming a good policeman."