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Column: Remembering Virginia Beach’s early black police officers

BY PAT GALLAGHER

VIRGINIA BEACH — In early 2012, the Virginia Beach Police Department and a committee of local citizens representing the interests of the African American community began researching the history of the first black police officers to serve on either the City of Virginia Beach or Princess Anne County police departments.

This committee of stakeholders was brought together to conduct the necessary research to identify all those black officers who served before 1970.  An ad in the Virginian Pilot sought the public’s help to identify every fulltime, part-time and volunteer officer who would fit the criteria for our research. Numerous interviews and an extensive search into the archived human resources and Fraternal Order of Police records were conducted to aid in our search.  

By August 2012, the committee identified six fulltime, two part-time and 23 volunteer officers. Of the paid officers identified, one, Officer Johnny Parks III, was located outside of Richmond.  He was invited and agreed to attend a ceremony on Aug. 20, 2012, at the Second Police Precinct. Six other officers – Robert Sparrow, Mondoza Holloway, Isaac C. Siler, Alexander Woodhouse, Russel Lawrence, and Charles Pace – had all passed.  Officer Warfield Wood could not be located, and, prior to the ceremony, his whereabouts were unknown.   

It was disheartening to learn that, despite the committee’s effort, the list of honorees was not complete. On the date of the ceremony, the department learned of at least three additional police officers who were left out, including Officers Eugene Ramsey and David Whitehurst.  Following the ceremony, an elderly citizen reported that she vividly recalled attending the funeral of a black police officer named Officer Little. This officer, she recalled, was shot and killed while on duty at Seaview Beach in the 1950s. Despite the work conducted by members of the committee, no evidence had ever been discovered that referenced an Officer Little – no less someone who had been shot in the line of duty.    

Theresa Dunleavy of the Virginia Beach Public Library and Ivey Glendon of the University of Virginia Library and later the Library of Congress were asked to help conduct a more thorough search on the existence of this unknown officer. We were surprised to learn that these librarians were able to validate the memory of the elderly citizen whose recollection of attending the funeral of a fallen officer was exactly as she remembered. That discovery led members of the Virginia Beach Police Department, the Virginia Beach Law Enforcement Foundation and the Black Law Enforcement Pioneer Committee to take action to ensure that the memory of that man would never again be forgotten. 

On Sunday evening, Aug. 2, 1953, Special Officer Hezekiah Little Jr. was patrolling Seaview Beach, part of what is now Chick’s Beach near Great Neck Rd and Shore Drive. He confronted a disorderly soldier on leave from Fort Eustis. The outcome of this encounter tragically resulted in Officer Little being shot and killed.  

The tragedy of an officer’s death in the line of duty is all too real, whether it occurs in 1953 or 2008, the year Virginia Beach Police Detective Michael Phillips was shot and killed in the line of duty.  These events, in most cases, create indelible marks in the history of our community and are memorialized not only locally, but also at the state and national levels.  We draw attention to the Virginia Beach Law Enforcement Memorial on 35th Street at the Boardwalk here in our city and the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington, D.C.

Why Officer Little’s death did not have the same indelible condition may be due to the discriminatory nature of the South in the 1950s, when African American citizens did not enjoy the same level of concern by many whites who held positions of power and influence.  

After completing the due diligence in researching the history of Officer Little, Police Chief James Cervera submitted the necessary information to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial for consideration for inclusion on the memorial wall in Washington D.C. On Dec. 6, 2012, Officer Little’s application was granted. His name was inscribed and celebrated on the memorial wall on May 13, 2013, at the 25th Annual Candlelight Vigil. Officer Little was survived by two sons, a daughter, and several siblings. One of his sons, Ernest, and his sister, Dorothy, are still alive and live locally.  

As a constant reminder of the significant historical accomplishments of these pioneers who served our community with distinction, a plaque was commissioned by John Wells Studio and currently hangs in the lobby of the Second Precinct at the Oceanfront.  

In 2019, the Virginia Beach Police Department recommissioned John Wells Studios to reproduce these plaques so that they can be displayed at other police facilities – First Precinct and Headquarters building at the Municipal Center, Third Precinct in Bayside, Fourth Precinct in Kempsville and the Law Enforcement Training Academy on Birdneck Road. 

The department will also donate one plaque to the soon to be built African American Cultural Center located near Lake Edwards.  Recently, Chief Cervera presented one of these plaques to the Virginia Beach City Council to be displayed at City Hall  

It is with great pride that we celebrate the hard work of the following individuals: Bonnie Beni, Deborah Kopicki, Edna Hendrix, Sharon Felton and the late Freddie Moody. They were part of the committee to help research and plan for the ceremonies held in 2012 and 2013 to honor these men.  

We hope we can all agree that the celebration and recognition of these pioneers was long overdue. However, we can take some comfort in knowing that, although late, their legacy was finally brought to light. 

We also believe additional recognition should be extended to Lt. Scott Humphrey, John Wills of John Wills Studio, retired police Chief Jake Jacocks, Theresa Dunleavy and Ivey Glendon. Their work in researching, documenting, providing resources, and especially providing the artwork that honors the men who adorn the plaque reflects our collective respect for their place in our local and professional history.


Deputy Chief Patrick L. Gallagher oversees the Virginia Beach Police Department Investigative Division.


© 2020 Pungo Publishing Co., LLC / Used with permission

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