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Test of Courage



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Diversity in the Fire Service
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late 1950s

Golden Video 3

Golden Video 4

late 1950s

Eventually, the black and white firefighters learned to work together at the scene of a fire or other emergency. Once they returned to the firehouse, however, things were different.

While black firefighters were accepted as professionals, they were still excluded from the firehouse culture. As a new generation of young recruits entered Oakland's force, a more accepting atmosphere prevailed.

Although attitudes began to change inside the firehouse, department officials and policies were slow to follow.


McGue Video 1

McGue Video 2


By the late '60s, the Civil Rights Movement swept the nation. Protest rallies, sit-ins and subsequent changes in legislation resulted in the advancement of equal rights for minorities. Many American neighborhoods and workplaces were adjusting to the changes, but not without tension and fear. In Oakland, pandemonium set in when Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968. The OFD was called on to respond.

The racial tensions within Oakland and throughout the country were mirrored at the OFD firehouse.


Logan Video 1

McGue Video 3

Golden Video 5

Logan Video 2

Golden Video 6

By the 1970s, Oakland was one of the most diverse cities in the nation, but the numbers of minority firefighters remained low, and there were no women in the department. In 1973, the city was offering exams for new firefighters. Richard Logan was one of the candidates.

In 1973, the Black Firefighters Association was formed to increase the number of minority firefighters coming into the department. Richard Logan became president of the organization. The following year, the Association filed its first lawsuit against Oakland, charging the city with discriminatory hiring practices. Out of 424 firefighters, there were 56.6% white males, 28.3% blacks, 6.1% Latinos, 2.6% Asian/Asian Americans, 0.5% Native Americans and 5.9% women. The suit was met with counter suits claiming discrimination by both minorities and white men. The battles were fought in courtrooms for 11 years.

The Black Firefighters Association also lobbied for changes in the testing process. Testing procedures were deemed unfair on more than one level. Fire departments often hired family members who had an inherent advantage by being part of the firefighter culture. And because the culture was predominantly white, it was difficult for new candidates to break in.

The written exam was found to have an adverse impact on African Americans, and the physical agility test negatively affected women. The Association called for more women and minorities to sit on the oral interview panels.

Golden recalls how white candidates had access to test questions and blacks did not.


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