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Black man from Plainville makes police history in Boston

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By Diane Church, New Britain Herald

PLAINVILLE — For years the Boston, Mass. Police Department thought its first black officer joined the force after the Great Police Strike of 1919.

But last spring Margaret Sullivan, the department’s archivist, found a reference in a book by a 19th century police officer that mentioned the force’s “first colored officer hired in 1878.”

No name was given, so Sullivan cross-checked the police payroll from 1878, which listed names, to the city’s 1880 census, which listed race. She found that a black man named Horatio Julius Homer had indeed been on the police force. Not only was he the first African-American officer in Boston, he was the second in the United States.

Homer was born in Plainville, which was then part of Farmington. As part of her research, Sullivan visited the Plainville Historical Center to find out about Homer’s birthplace, with help from the society’s President Nancy Eberhardt and Vice-President Rose Stanley.

On June 26, Eberhardt and Stanley attended a memorial ceremony in Boston where Homer was recognized for his achievement and finally given a gravestone at his final resting place in Evergreen Cemetery.

“The ceremony was fantastic,” said Stanley. I was blown away.”

Many police officers attended the ceremony on their own time. They stood side by side, forming a large circle around the area. Speakers included Sullivan, Mayor Thomas Menino and Police Commissioner Edward F. Davis. Stanley said floral wreaths were laid at each side of the new grave marker and Boston Police Special Operations Division delivered a 21-gun salute. “Taps” was played.

Homer was born in 1848, the year Connecticut abolished slavery. Plainville was home to a number of black families by then who has integrated into the town’s daily life.

Homer left Plainville as a young man and moved to Waterbury, where he worked at a hotel. He got married and he and his wife moved to Massachusetts, where he worked on the railroad, a shoe factory in Lynn and on a steamship that sailed between Boston and Bangor. On the railroad, he rescued a number of passengers during a fire and on the steamship he caught a man breaking into a cabin and held him until the police arrived. He applied for a job in the police force in 1878. At the time, the only other African-American police officer in the United States had been hired two years before in Cleveland.

Homer was promoted to sergeant in 1895. He was also on the Police Commission, so he was trusted with a lot of inside information.

“He was trusted,” Eberhardt said. “He was a well-respected man.”

In his spare time Homer mastered 10 musical instruments and belonged to a men’s political club.

In 1902, Homer’s wife died. His married a second time to Lydia Spriggs, and they lived in the city’s south end as part of Boston’s black middle class. They had two children together.

At the age of 71, Homer retired after finding out he had stomach cancer. He was given a pension of $875 a year, half his annual salary. Four years later he died. With no income, Lydia moved to Cambridge and became a laundress to support herself and the children. She could never afford a gravestone for her husband and was buried beside him when she passed away.

Homer still has some family in the area. He had a sister who remained in Plainville. Her granddaughter Kyle Carrillo still lives in town and her grandson Darren Carrillo lives in Southington. They could not be reached. Homer’s also has two granddaughters who live in Summersville, Mass.

Stanley said the family knew Horatio Homer had been a police officer, but they didn’t know much else about him

“He died when his children were young,” Stanley said “They were thrilled to death to learn more about him.”

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Written by Symphony

July 19, 2010 at 1:07 pm

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