John Anderson, #175: Cleveland’s First Black Police Sergeant and Lieutenant

John William Anderson Junior was born to John William Anderson Senior and Virginia Ann Cunningham on October 31, 1861 in Plain City, Ohio. John and Virginia Anderson, listed as “free people of color” on their marriage license, first moved from Virginia to Plain City, OH, then moved their family of eight children to Cleveland, where John Sr. worked as a carpenter.   They settled in a home on Quincy Street, where they lived for the remainder of their lives.

After completing school, John Jr. entered the trades as a molder.  In April of 1884 he married Olive Ann Kellogg, the daughter of David Kellogg and Georgiana Bassett in Cleveland.   After successfully completing the test for the Cleveland Police Department, John Anderson was appointed a patrolman on January 13, 1887 and assigned Badge Number 175.  He was the second black officer to be appointed in Cleveland (the first being William Tucker, #45, appointed in 1881).

Plain Dealer, 1/14/1887
Anderson Oath of Office

Patrolman Anderson demonstrated his marksmanship capabilities one morning while off duty.  Contacted at 6 o’clock at his residence, to a mad dog threatening workers and neighbors on nearby Quincy Street, he immediately responded.  The Plain Dealer described the incident as “It being plainly evident that the dog was mad and several shots were fired at him, Patrolman Anderson was summoned.  He reached one side of Quincy street just as the dog was passing down the other side of the street, seventy-five feet distant.  Anderson leveled his revolver at the beast and fired one shot.  The mad animal fell to the ground dead, the bullet having entered its heart.”   

During his tenure, Officer Anderson served in the 1st, 3rd and 6th Precincts, with much of that time as a member of the Civilian Dress Detail. According the the 1898 Police Commemorative Album, “One of the most important cases on which Anderson worked was in connection with the “reign of terror,” in 1895 when people could not walk abroad at night for fear of being held up and robbed.  He with Detective Watt worked on the case and finally succeeded in causing the arrest of Burt Kaiser and William Watson who were given long penitentiary sentences.”

Plain Dealer, 10/17/1896
Plain Dealer, 8/6/1906

Cleveland Police Detectives, 1897
A.B. Lacey, H. Willmore, J. Anderson, H. Keihl, D. Stanton, C. Parker
A. Lawrence, Wm. Watt, A. McMillan, J. Doran, L. DeCell, J. Sprosty, J. Reeves
Capt. Of Detectives J. Lohrer, Director E.A. Abbott, Chief G.E. Corner

The retirement of two Lieutenants in January of 1898 opened the door for promotions.  Three Sergeants were in consideration to fill the Lieutenant openings and several Patrolmen were in the running to fil the Sergeant vacancies.  The Plain Dealer identified eight Patrolmen who scored highest on the civil service test, including Anderson.  Of his service they said “John Anderson is probably the best-known patrolman in the City of Cleveland. For years he has done duty in citizen cloths.  There is not a criminal in the city who does not know and fear this officer.  Anderson has taken part in nearly every raid made by the police in years, and has made more arrests to his credit than any other patrolman.  There is not an officer on the force who does not hope he will be made a sergeant.  For some reason Anderson has been ignored by the powers to be.”   On January 17th John Anderson was promoted to Sergeant and assigned to the Sixth Precinct.  He became the first black police supervisor to serve in Cleveland.

Plain Dealer, 1/8/1898

Throughout his career, and later in retirement, he participated and supported a number of charitable, musical and police related groups. He served as a trustee for the Police Pension Fund for several years. He was actively involved in the Cleveland Police Social Club, helping to organize fundraisers for the group and later serving as it’s vice president. He played on the police baseball team and served as its Captain for a time, arranging matches with the Fire Department, other police departments and even City Council.  John was also an accomplished singer, organizing and participating in many charitable shows and concerts, raising money for the Cleveland Police Social Club, local YMCA and the Miles Park Presbyterian Church.

Plain Dealer, 3/25/1905
Plain Dealer, 6/8/1907

Although he and Olive never had children, Anderson kept close with his extended family, even taking in his niece and nephew at one point. On May 24th, 1899, John’s parents celebrated their 50th Wedding Anniversary at their home on Quincy Street, where they had lived for twenty-two years.

Sergeant Anderson was promoted to Lieutenant on June 23rd, 1908 and was assigned to the Sixth Precinct.   He remained in the Sixth Precinct until he notified the Department of his intention to retire on November 29th, 1912, effective December 1st.  After retiring John found work in corporate security at the Corrigan- McKinney Steel Company.   Working there until 1922, he retired again and purchased a small farm near Oberlin, Ohio where he passed away on January 1st, 1938. 

Anderson’s death certificate, 1938

Interestingly, while John and his wife Olive and John’s parents identified themselves as black on the 1900 census (and other records before then), John and Olive changed their identification to white by 1910. Anderson’s death certificate from 1938 identifies him as wife. Contemporary newspaper articles did not note his race, but a 1955 Plain Dealer article about black police officers in Cleveland listed John Anderson as the second black officer in the department and the first to gain the ranks of sergeant and lieutenant.

John W. Anderson was the last survivor of his family, his wife Olive having passed away on December 1, 1933.  Services were held at the Calvin J. Bollinger Funeral Home, 9810 Denison Avenue, and he was laid to rest with his wife in Riverside Cemetery.  He was the first African American to rise to the ranks of Sergeant and Lieutenant in the Cleveland Police Department.

Plain Dealer, 1/3/1938

Written by Cleveland Police Historical Society and Museum volunteer Commander Robert Cermak, Ret.

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