Box 1, Folder 14, Document 58

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Box 1, Folder 14, Document 58

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September 25, 1969

The Honorable Ivan Allen, Jr., Mayor
City of Atlanta

City Hall

Atlanta, Georgia 30303

Dear Mayor Allen:

This letter is in response to the letter of August 15, 1969 addressed
to you by Chief P. O. Williams of the Atlanta Fire Department.

You will recall that at the meeting which prompted that letter, many
of the Atlanta firemen expressed to you their grievances over dis-
criminatory practices in the Atljanta Fire Department. We are certain
that you are unaware of the extent of the racial discrimination prac-
ticed in the Atlanta Fire Department. The purpose of this letter is,
first, to summarize certain major grievances in the light of Chief
Williams! letter, and secondly, to request that you attend the meeting
of the Board of Fire Masters on Monday, September 29th, when these
matters will be considered.

This letter will emphasize three specific courses of action in which
the black firemen of Atlanta are interested. Although this list is

not exhaustive, it is believed that action in these three areas will
demonstrate good faith on the part of the City and on the part of the
senior officials in the Fire Department, and will also make it possible
to work effectively toward resolution of the other grievances of the
black firemen.

First, on promotional practices. In his letter of August 15, 1969,
Chief Williams stated that the promotional system of the Atlanta Fire
Department is set by law. This is true. The Code of Ordinances of

the City of Atlanta requires that all hiring and promotional practices
by City Departments shall be on a non-discriminatory basis. It is not
true, however, that this law is always followed in practice. As Thomas
Jefferson observed: "The execution of the laws is more important than
the making of them."

In his letter, Chief Williams states that promotional examinations for
Fire Lieutenants are held every two years. In the past, such examina-
tions have been held at varying intervals of time, from six months to

as much as two years. The most recent such examination was last March.
As Chief Williams states, there are no black firemen high enough on the
promotional list which resulted from that examination to anticipate any
promotions of black firemen to Lieutenants within the foreseeable future.

For the reasons summarized below, it is the position of the black firemen
that the examination given in March, 1969, was unfairly administered,

and that there were both over and covert methods of favoring white
firemen who took this exam.
For example, at the time prior to the test in March, many white fire-
men were seen studying copies of an examination folder, and discussing
among themselves questions that would be on the exam. Whether these
were actual copies of the exam to be given, copies of examination book-
lets from which the questions would be taken, or copies of previous
examinations, it is not known because none of them were made available
to any black firemen. The only textbooks available to the black fire-
men for study were the one set of regulations and fire fighting pro-
cedures available at each station, to which the black firemen had only
limited access.

Moreover, the written examination is not the only grade upon which pro-
motion is based. In addition to the written examination score, firemen
are graded at the training tower and the score given them there can only
help their grade, not detract from it. Scores given at the training
tower are entirely subjective and the only graders are white officers.
The white firemen who are favored by the officers receive higher scores.

Even if a black fireman were to score in the top twenty of all the Atlanta
firemen on the written and training tower tests, there is an oral inter-
view to determine the order in which the top twenty will be promoted.

It would be an easy matter, under this system, to place the black fire-
men at the bottom of the list, and before that point was reached in pro-
motions, to call for another Lieutenant's examination, which would "re-
shuffle the deck." No other reason for breaking down the promotion list
into groups of twenty suggests itself.

It must also be remembered that white firemen receive encouragement and
special instruction from the white officers who want to see them succeed.
There is no such encouragement to black firemen even to take the examina-
tion, much less is there any special instruction or advice on taking the
examination given to black firemen. The numerous instances of discrim-
ination in the Department make it clear to the black firemen that the
leadership of the Department is committed to a policy of making certain
the black firemen are not to be judged on an equal basis with white

On the basis of the foregoing analysis it is difficult for us not to
believe two things. First, the examination for promotions given in
March, 1969, for fire lieutenant was not fairly administered as be-
tween black firemen and white firemen. Black firemen were expressly
discriminated against in that copies of the examination were not made
available to them, and in that they were graded down at the training
tower. Black firemen were more subtly discriminated against in that
they did not receive the encouragement to take the examination and
the assurances that the examination would be fairly administered.
Given these disadvantages, which were apparent to all black firemen,
the motivation of the black firemen who took the examination was
understandably low.

Again, we wish to point out that promotions have been made within the
Fire Department in the last few years on an emergency basis, promoting
persons who did not have the required length of time in grade. The
present situation is a crisis of confidence by black firemen in the
administration of the Fire Department, and is an emergency which would
justify the immediate appointment of several black firemen to officer
status. In addition, for the benefit of all the black firemen who
desire to see fair, non-discriminatory administration of the promotion
process, no promotions to Lieutenant should be made on the basis of the
March, 1969 examination, and promotions already made on the basis of that
examination should be rescinded. A new examination should be held,
administered under the supervision of an outside agency to guarantee
its fair, non-discriminatory administration. All black firemen should
be given the same access to study materials as white firemen. Only
after such a departmentwide examination is given, should any further
promotions be made in the Fire Department.

Second, we believe the rules of the Department are, as a matter of
policy, being unfairly administered to discourage blacks from re-
maining in the Fire Department. There are numerous examples, known

to every black fireman, of unfair administration of the rules of the
Department. For example, black firemen will be reported and disci-
plined for being a few minutes late reporting for duty. White fire-
men who are late for a longer period of time are not reported and dis-
Ciplined. In order to put an end to this petty abuse of rank, there
must be created in the Fire Department a grievance procedure whereby
such specific discriminatory practices can be called to the attention
of higher officials, and dealt with in some specific fashion. There
is no such grievance procedure which has the confidence of the black
firemen at present. In his letter of August 15, 1969, Chief Williams
said there are, in fact, three methods by which to air grievances.
There are (1) completing a special request, (2) going through company
officers and battalion chiefs, and (3) using the suggestion form avail-
able in all stations. The problem is, that after using these methods,
nothing is done. There must be a nonpartisan committee, preferably
with both outside and black officer participation, which would publicly
hear all complaints, and which will follow a consistent patter of pun-
ishing and suspending those officers who practice petty discrimination.
Without such a grievance procedure, the black firemen feel that there
is no hope of ending the petty discrimination which presently pervades
the Department.

In addition to the unfair administration of the present rules, we feel
that discrimination is being built into the proposed new rules promul-
gated at the last meeting of the Board of Fire Masters. In his letter

of August 15, 1969, Chief Williams stated that "we are in the process

of rewriting the rules and regulations of the Atlanta Fire Department

to eliminate any inequities in the old book, to eliminate any possibility
of discrimination or the possibility of any officer over-reacting with

Section 21, Paragraph 1 of the proposed new rules, relating to re-
employment, provides that any employee who resigns or is dismissed from
this Department may have his name placed on the re-employed list for re-
employment within three (3) years from the termination of his services
and that any member who is so re-employed may be credited with all former

service in the class in which he is re-employed. The present period
for which this privilege of credit for former service is allowed is
six (6) months. The effect of the adoption of any such rule would be
to place all of the white firemen who left as a result of the strike
less than three years ago, and in whose place many black firemen were
employed, ahead of the black firemen in seniority. To the minds of
the black firemen, such an unjust result, achieved with a mere "flick
of the pen," is an important and significant manifestation of the bad
faith of the present administration of the Fire Department with respect
to black employees. You, as Mayor of this City, are urged to use your
influence to prevent any such change in the regulations of the Fire
Department which would place all black firemen at the bottom of the
list in terms of seniority.

Within the confines of the above problems, there are many specific
grievances and complaints of Atlanta black firemen. The purpose of
the black firemen of Atlanta is to serve their City well and to pro-
tect its citizens from the dangers of fire and other hazards for which
the Fire Department was organized. However, the black firemen of
Atlanta are not able to serve their City effectively in the present
atmospher of discrimination and unjust treatment that pervades the
Atlanta Fire Department.

Your earnest attention to the above matters is urged.

Yours very truly,

William Hamer, for

ec: Members of Board of Fire Masters
Chief P. O. Williams


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