Pioneering black city officer dies at 91 Harry S. Scott joined police force in 1938

January 20, 1996|By Fred Rasmussen | Fred Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Harry S. Scott, who as the last surviving of the city Police Department's original group of black officers continued to inspire younger generations of black officers, died Monday at Northwest Medical Center of pneumonia. He was 91.

Mr. Scott joined the city Police Department in 1938, and, like other black officers hired then and in the next few years, was not allowed to carry weapons or wear the departmental uniform.

He retired in 1969 as a sergeant.

Services with full police honors will be held at 11 a.m. today at Metropolitan United Methodist Church, Carrollton Avenue and Lanvale Street.

Bishop L. Robinson, who moved up from the officers' ranks to become the city's first black police commissioner in 1984 and then a top state law enforcement figure, remembered Sergeant Scott fondly yesterday.

"I was just a kid about 10 years old," said Mr. Robinson, now director of the state Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, "and I remember my father talking about Gardner, Butler and Scott. We were living in the projects, and I used to go up to the Western District just to see him leave, wearing his uniform. He'd flash me a big smile.

"He was an amazing man," Mr. Robinson said, noting that early in Mr. Scott's career, "he suffered the indignities of not being able to wear a uniform or ride in a squad car with a white officer, but he never complained. He used to say, 'We'll make it one of these days. The Lord will make a way.'

"He built the bridges that we later crossed," Mr. Robinson said.

In 1938, Gov. Harry W. Nice and several politicians in Catonsville, where Mr. Scott lived, urged him to take the police examination.

At the time, Mr. Scott, who was a graduate of the old Baltimore Colored High School and had attended Hampton Institute in Virginia, was a yardman and coal deliveryman for Wilson Lumber & Coal Co.

Mr. Scott, Walter T. Eubanks Jr., Milton Gardner and J. Hiram Butler Jr. became members of the department together. Mr. Eubanks later dropped out but the other three officers joined Violet Hill Whyte as the first black officers in the department. A year earlier, Ms. Whyte had become the first black appointed to the city Police Department. The four officers' history-making achievements have become part of a permanent exhibit in the Police Headquarters museum on Fayette Street.

Former city Police Commissioner Edward V. Woods said he was a young officer assigned to the Western District when he encountered Mr. Scott.

"Knowing that he was the only black sergeant, you could look up to him," Mr. Woods said. "He was something to aspire to."

Mr. Woods was commissioner from 1989 to 1993 and now is retired.

"In my time as a young black officer, you couldn't dream of becoming police commissioner. It just wasn't possible. But being a sergeant, that was possible because Mr. Scott had achieved that. He walked tall and had the respect of both black and whites, and he treated everyone fairly.

"When young black officers complained about being assigned to only black neighborhoods, he'd say, 'Calm down. You're a police officer and a representative of your race.'

"He stood there as an example to all of us, and he passed on the baton to the younger generation who he knew would go farther than he did."

Said Maj. Wendell M. France, commander of the city police homicide unit: "He challenged the system along with the others, and he made it possible for me to be here. Mr. Scott was always a gentleman who led by example, and we've tried to follow that example."

Current Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier, who plans to attend today's services, said: "I admire both his ability and courage as a pioneer who changed the face of law enforcement despite the many obstacles and pressures that confronted him. He will forever be an important part of the Baltimore Police Department's proud history."

Initially assigned in 1938 to the Northwestern District, where he was assigned to the vice squad and did undercover work dressed in mufti -- without a weapon.

In 1943, Police Commissioner Hamilton R. Atkinson ordered black officers into uniform and declared that they were to be given regular beats.

"We were celebrities because he was allowed to wear the uniform," said his son H. Stanley Scott Jr. of Baltimore. "People would come from miles around to see him in his uniform when he left the house. I was so proud of my father, and so were my mother, brothers and sisters. The whole colored community was."

Mr. Scott's assignments included the old Pine Street Station in West Baltimore and working with the Police Boys' Club from 1946 to 1952. He was promoted to sergeant in 1955.

"He always advised me and my brothers to go into the post office because it was inside work," his son said with a chuckle.

Mr. Scott was active in the affairs of the Metropolitan United Methodist Church. He also enjoyed fishing and helping Mack Lewis, the Baltimore fight promoter, train fighters in his gym.

In 1927, he and Edith Smith were married. They lived for years in West Baltimore and later on Monastery Avenue. Mrs. Scott died in 1986.

Survivors include three other sons, Theodore L. Scott and George E. Scott, both of Baltimore, and Leonard S. Scott of Bellevue, Wash.; two daughters, Edith A. Davis of Baltimore and Carolyn Bowser of Warner Robins, Ga.; a sister, Grace Lessane of Baltimore; 24 grandchildren; 12 great-grandchildren; and eight great-great grandchildren.

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