Early African-American Firefighters


The belt above was given by the Winston Fire Department. The inscription reads "Championship 1897". Photo by North Carolina Museum of History.

This belt was last held by the "Red Hot Hose Company" an African-American company in Wilson N.C.

An organization of African-American firefighters was formed in 1888 or 1889 called "North Carolina Colored Volunteer Firemen's Association." This group supported the efforts of similar firefighters throughout the state. Winston Hosted many tournaments and conventions records show they did so in 1897-1906-1910.

This indicates that black firefighters as well as white firefighters attended the national convention in 1887 as delegates. Records do not indicate what this organization was.

Newspaper accounts of colored firefighter conventions indicate Winston had one or more African-American fire companies by 1896 and until at least 1907. Winston merged with Salem in 1913, and the fire department was fully-paid by 1923. Sources include Winston-Salem Journal, July 12, 2007.

The reports are slim as to the names and the persons involved in these early companies. One of these companies from Winston named the "Hook and Ladder Company" attended the 1896 convention in Wilson. Source: News & Observer, August 13, 1896.

The best accounts as to the names of these early pioneers groups:

  • Winston Red Hot Hose Reel Company
  • Slater Hose Reel Company
  • Columbia Heights Hose Reel Company
  • Winston Colored Hook and Ladder

The only names found that were involved in the above companies were Tom Dooley, T.H. Harrison, J.C. Latty J.J. Swepson and Sam Toliver.

The two towns utilized these efficient companies for a number of years. The exact date that these companies dissolved is unknown but they disappeared from records sometime between 1913 and 1923.

First Paid African-American Firefighters

March 1, 1951, the city hires and forms the city's and the state's first integrated Fire Company housed at Engine Company #4 on Dunleith Avenue. The names of these firefighters were Raphael Black, Willie Carter, Lester Ervin, John Henry Ford, Robert Grier, John Meredith, George Penn, and John Thomas. The fire department was fully integrated by November 1967.

First African-American Fire Chief in North Carolina

On July 21st 1980 Lester E Ervin is promoted to Fire Chief making him the first African-American Fire Chief in the State. Chief Ervin was one of the original eight firefighters hired in 1951 to form the cities first integrated firehouse.


The City of Winston-Salem Marketing & Communications department has produced a documentary video about Engine Company #4.

Source: Research done by Chuck Milligan and Mike Legeros. 

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