Tampa’s Fearless Four Fought Discrimination in City Employment

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Tampa’s Fearless Four, from left, James Dukes, Frank Gray, Clarence Nathan and Rufus Lewis, were Tampa police officers who, 50 years ago, successfully sued the Tampa Police Department for discrimination. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]

On Emancipation Day and Juneteenth, Paul Guzzo, culture reporter for the Tampa Bay Times, joined Shelley on MidPoint to explore the history of the Fearless Four, a group of Tampa Police Department officers who filed a federal racial discrimination complaint in 1974. Their complaint was joined with one filed by the National Organization for Women. After a 2 year investigation of their allegations by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Four were successful, and the then-Mayor William Poe Sr. for the City of Tampa signed an agreement committing to weed out discrimination from its hiring and promotion practices so that Blacks and women were equally considered for positions and advancement in City government.

Guzzo’s research involved more than 40 hours of interviews with the now-elderly gentlemen who related their experiences of racial discrimination in the Tampa Police Department in detail. Surprisingly, perhaps, they insisted that they would not name the personnel in the department that they believed were responsible for abusing them or holding them back. They preferred to forgive them now.

One of the younger officers who initially approached the Four about joining their complaint was Bennie Holder, then a new officer on the force. He was turned away from being a named complainant because of his limited time on the police force, and because the more experienced officers hoped to improve conditions for Holder’s future advancement in the police force for him. Ironically, years later, Bennie Holder was named Tampa’s first Black Chief of Police by Tampa’s first woman Mayor, Sandy Freedman. To date, Holder still holds the record as Tampa’s longest-serving police Chief.

You can read Paul Guzzo’s story in the Tampa Bay Times here. You can listen to the full Juneteenth show here, on the WMNF app, or as a WMNF MidPoint podcast wherever you get your podcasts.

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