It was April 4, 1968, when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was fatally shot at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, TN.
The Civil Rights Movement was already in full force around the country, but tensions heightened even more following the death of its leader.
It was also around this time that the Columbia County Branch of the NAACP began to push the Magnolia Police Department to hire Black officers.
“Back then, we were trying to get the race going forward. Some of the guys in the NAACP were related to me and talked me into being among those to join the police department. They thought I would be a good one,” said 87-year-old Talmadge Brown, one of Magnolia’s first Black police officers.
Brown said it was the mid-1960s or so when he joined the MPD, “definitely around the time when Dr. King was assassinated.”
“This was during the time when some big changes were being made, like attempting to get Blacks onto the police departments or in governments,” stated Brown.
According to the former MPD officer, things were somewhat the same for Magnolia as it was for the entire country when it came to racial division.
“I finished high school, went to college and then (joined) the military. I recall crime getting worse in the city, both among Blacks and whites. After King was killed, it really put Blacks in a bad situation or what I’ll call a zero position back then,” explained Brown.
The officer said he saw a few things get better for Blacks in Magnolia during his time on the force, but added that there were also things that wouldn’t be tolerated today.
“I had my time (on the police department). Don’t know if I, or any of us, made a difference back then. Under the circumstances, I would do it all over again if I had to. I was always a construction kind of guy. I built two houses back in those days, even the one I’m living in now. But the NAACP was looking for someone they thought they could depend on and I was one of them. I took the job and retired after 20 years,” said Brown.
On national politics, the mentioning of the nation’s first African-American President (Barak Obama) drew laughter from him.
“That was something, wasn’t it? I have his picture all over my house,” said Brown, adding Kamala Harris being elected as Vice President was another major step for Blacks. He noted that many others, not only just in politics, have opened doors for Black people.
Brown said he recalled a time when the simple thought of Blacks being in the White House was “useless.”
“But people’s ways of thinking changed during Martin Luther King’s days. There was certainly (white) people against the Blacks, but there were some who supported them. Even here in Magnolia, there were some (white people) who supported Blacks behind the scene, but I didn’t know who they were,” said Brown, adding, “Somebody knew somebody to get me that job.”