Tuesday, 21 March 2023 12:44

‘Old 7s’ Fire Station seeks to honor first HFD Black firefighters

The graduating class of 1955 made history when the first Black cadets joined the ranks of the Houston Fire Department. A memorial is in the planning stages to honor them. The graduating class of 1955 made history when the first Black cadets joined the ranks of the Houston Fire Department. A memorial is in the planning stages to honor them. Photo courtesy of Houston Fire Department


As the city’s first fire station built after the Houston Fire Department became a fully paid department in 1895, Station No. 7 is used to making history. Its trustees and staff have worked tirelessly to restore and preserve the original building, which now serves as a museum.

The original station opened in 1899 and operated until 1969, when a new Fire Station No.7 opened on Elgin Street. It became the home of the Houston Fire Museum in 1982 and was registered as a Texas Landmark in 1988.

The museum is the keeper of history and culture of the Houston Fire Department, serving as a tribute to those men and women who braved the flames to protect homes and businesses. An additional tribute to the city’s firefighters will include a second-story wing dedicated to the department’s first African American class.

“The Class of 1955 was comprised of trailblazers who were hard working, dedicated individuals with a determination to succeed against all odds,” said Kate Ryther, director of the Houston Fire Museum. “As a result of their actions, there are a number of HFD’s Black firefighters who have followed in their footsteps, protecting and serving the city they call home.”

HFD Communications Specialist Supervisor Paul Box said the plan began about a year ago when the Houston Black Firefighters Association were looking for a place to honor the class and their achievements.

“They wanted it to be in a public place and have people come and visit,” Box said.  “At first it was going to be Emancipation Park. Then there was thought about creating a memorial wall at our pension office, but we started running into snags.”

When the renovations at the Old 7 Fire Station began, Box said Cpt. Isaac O’Neal reached out to Ryther and discussed the possibility of obtaining the naming rights to the second floor. They soon partnered to begin a campaign to raise $500,000 by November 2023 for the naming rights to the floor and to create a memorial display there.

Box said the memorial honoring the Black firefighter cadets is still in the planning stages. 

The Class of 1955 consisted of 10 Black men: Milton C. Alford, Willie S. Bright, Walter Brooks, Alfa O. Cravin, John Hayes Jr., Samuel Kempt, James A. Perry, Willie D. Cooper, Clifford J. Thompson and Garnett C. Young. They were chosen to attend firefighter training along with 28 white counterparts. 

Nine of the 10 Black cadets completed the six-weeks training and were placed at Station No. 42, located on what is now known as Clinton Drive. During their time in the academy, the cadets encountered very little prejudice and harassment. Once they graduated, however, it was a different matter.

According to their history, they slept in separate quarters from the white firefighters and had their own eating area. All were overlooked for promotions and often off duty white firefighters would visit Station 42 just to harass these men. 

They were subject to daily racial slurs and never had an opportunity to fill in at a white station. Their captains and drivers were white men. Even though more Black firefighters were hired, their transfers were limited to other stations staffed by Black firefighters, such as stations No. 46 and No. 47.

All but one of the members of Black cadets from 1955 have died. Milton C. Alford, who eventually became a fire inspector, is the last surviving member.

Box said it is important for the department to share the class of 1955’s story.

“We recognize people all the time, but there is nothing here that recognizes their achievement. It doesn’t happen every day. We call them trailblazers, and it’s about time we recognize real heroes for what they did,” he said.


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