The First Black Chief of the U.S. Park Police
There are a number of law enforcement agencies in Washington, D.C. One that many visitors to the city will often see is the U.S. Park Police, who protect our nation’s many national parks, including D.C.’s famous National Mall. The Park Police in and of itself is a rather unique agency, however today we are going to look at one of the most notable officers to lead its ranks: Chief Grant Wright.
Image courtesy of Ebony Magazine
In 1968, Chief Wright was the first African American to be appointed chief of the U.S. Park Police in Washington, D.C.—a position he held until his retirement in 1973. Wright was a humble man who grew up in Fredericksburg, Virginia, and graduated from Virginia Union University in 1940 with a degree in chemistry. He briefly taught in North Carolina before moving to Washington, D.C., in 1942. When the United States entered World War II, Wright joined up and served valiantly in the Pacific Theatre with the U.S. Army.
Chief Grant Wright is presented Virginia Union University’s Alumnus of the Year award in 1968. Image Source: Ebony Magazine
At the end of the war, Wright returned to Washington and resurrected his teaching career in the city’s public school system before ultimately joining the ranks of the U.S. Park Police in 1947. Wright described his appointment to the U.S. Park Police as “stop-gap” employment—a practice of finding a job just to make some income while looking for something else. But two years later, Wright was still with the Park Police, and had been placed on motorcycle duty—a rank in the department that earned extra pay and participated in special assignments, including presidential escort details. In 1961, Wright notably worked on the traffic plans for President Kennedy’s inauguration.
But Wright was not yet finished rising through the ranks of the U.S. Park Police. In 1966, he achieved the rank of inspector, and then in 1968, that of assistant chief. Only two months after his appointment as assistant chief, Grant Wright was named the chief of the U.S. Park Police by National Park Service Director George Hartzog. Upon his appointment, Wright became the agency’s first Black chief. He served as chief of the U.S. Park Police during the Civil Rights and Anti-War movements, which held a number of historic demonstrations on the National Mall.
Chief Wright died on May 16, 1988 at the age of 71.
Black Trailblazers in Blue is created in partnership between the National Law Enforcement Museum and the National Black Police Association to celebrate the triumphs of African American leaders in Law Enforcement.