February is Black History Month, an annual celebration of achievements by African Americans and a time for recognizing their central role in U.S. history.
Like many other places in the US, Eugene had a history of racial discrimination that prevented Black people from many things, including employment, buying real estate, and renting a place to live within the City limits.
Eugene Police hired the department’s first Black police officer in the 1960s: Officer Lem McKinnie. Besides serving the community in his police uniform, Lem McKinnie was also an ordained minister at St. Mark’s Christian Methodist Episcopal Church. The St. Mark’s church is still located at 1167 Sam Reynolds St, just off 11th Avenue in Eugene. The church itself, is a symbol for a community that had to relocate outside of city limits when their homes in the area of Alton Baker Park were removed for the expansion of the Ferry Street Bridge.
Officer McKinnie’s service to our community happened in a period when many other African Americans where fighting to dismantle racist practices. At that time, Martin Luther King Jr’s visionary leadership, Rosa Parks’ bravery, and the sacrifices of many other Black people resulted in a movement against racial segregation that transformed the country for better.
A lot has changed since Officer McKinnie joined EPD. Today, we celebrate our African American staff and acknowledge that we still have work to do until every person feels accepted and respected in all areas of law enforcement.