Battle Creek Had One of Michigan’s First Black Police Officers
Did you know that John W. Patterson Way is named after Battle Creek's first black police officer?
John W. Patterson enjoyed a 39-year career in Battle Creek law enforcement. Patterson was a baseball player early on in his life. In fact, he coached Battle Creek's high school baseball team between 1907 and 1909. That's when he joined law enforcement according to Battle Creek Inquirer,
In 1909, he became a patrolman with the Battle Creek Police Department in an era when, according to local historian Mary Butler, Battle Creek was a welcoming place for African-Americans.
Having a person of color join a police force in 1909 was extremely rare. To put this in perspective, Kalamazoo hired its first black police officer, Public Safety Officer Robert “Al” Goodwin in 1951. The first African American Michigan State Trooper, Jack Hall signed on in 1967.
Patterson was an impressive man. Before moving to Michigan, Paterson was born in 1872 in Nebraska when the state's black population was less than 5%. He went on to play, manage, and coach baseball in Chicago and Battle Creek. Which was no doubt, one heck of an accomplishment for a black man in the early 1900s.
By all accounts, John W. Patterson was well-liked in the community. He was known to have a smile on his face all of the time and was happy to help anyone that needed him. Tragically, Patterson's career ended when he died at the age of 68 according to the Battle Creek Inquirer,
While assisting in the capture of an escaped patient from the Veterans Administration facility, Patterson suffered a rupture in his groin that eventually became infected.
The Officer Down Memorial Page points out that Battle Creek changed the name of a portion of East State Street 'John W. Patterson Way' on New Year's Eve of 1999.