RICHMOND, Virginia – A huge mural honoring the top 10 career black firefighters in Richmond was unveiled to a bustling crowd in Jackson Ward on Friday.
The mural, depicting the ten men who were hired on July 1, 1950, was painted on the side of the Mocha Temple No. 7 Shrine Club on North Second Street.
The ten Engine Company # 9 firefighters honored were Charles L. Belle, William E. Brown, Douglas P. Evans, Harvey S. Hicks II, Warren W. Kersey, Bernard C. Lewis, Farrar Lucas, Arthur L. Page, Arthur C St. John, and Linwood M. Wooldridge.
“These men were pioneers, pioneers, in a ruthless time in America,” Richmond Fire Chief Melvin Carter told the crowd, which included family members of the Ten Firefighters. “For people of color in Richmond in the 1950s, seeing people of color on a fire truck in their neighborhood had to be a feeling of pride, awe and inspiration.”
Mayor Levar Stoney highlighted the struggle and sacrifices men faced while doing their jobs during segregation.
“Imagine there is a fire in the community you love in the town you love and when you show up to the fire people turn you down because you weren’t like them,” Stoney said. “Imagine that.”
At the time, the ten men were only a fraction of the 500 Richmond firefighters employed. Chief Carter said a diverse workforce now makes up both the Richmond Fire Department and Police.
“Our father joined the fire department in 1950 and it was quite an honor. But I don’t think we really enjoyed it that much, ”one of Arthur Pages’ daughters told the crowd. “They stayed together, they played together and they prayed together.”
Remaining family members and firefighters signed the mural ahead of its unveiling. The artwork was revealed to loud applause and applause as well as a dance when firefighters pulled out a tarp attached to the club’s roof.
“Tonight when we unveil this mural, I want everyone to remember that we may be struggling today, but think how far we’ve come and think of those who came before us,” explained Stoney.
Under the direction of SJT Global Arts, Sir James L. Thornhill, Jason Ford and Kevin Orlosky completed the mural to honor the ten firefighters.
On June 14, 1963, two members of Engine Company # 9, Captain Harvey S. Hicks II and Douglas P. Evans, were killed in a rescue attempt.
All black firefighters were assigned to Engine Company # 9 at Fifth Street and Duval Street. The fire station was demolished in 1968 and the site was declared a historic monument in 2000.
Engine Company # 9 and Associates Inc. was incorporated in September 1992 as an organization of professional, former and retired firefighters, law enforcement officers and associates of the City of Richmond and the metropolitan area.
Moka Temple NO. 7 Shrine Club is community-based and supports programs, health initiatives and mentoring for young people.