Saturday, February 01, 2014

Augustus H. Murray: Boston's First Commissioned African American fireman.

Augustus Henry Murray

The Boston Fire Department's first African American fireman, Augustus Henry Murray, was commissioned on May 21, 1897. A May 23, 1897 Boston Globe article titled, "Boston's First Colored Fireman" reported, "For the first time in the history of the fire department of Boston a colored man has been appointed." Murray was assigned to Engine 10, then located at the corner of Mt. Vernon and River Streets (now located at 125 Purchase Street, Downtown).

Murray was born in Charlestown on July 4, 1872. His parents were George and Eleanor Murray. His maternal grandparents were Dr. Henry Cummings, a well known African American botanical physician, and Harriet (Brooks).

The Globe described Murray as bright and athletic and that his commission was "a great surprise" to the members of the fire department and that the captain and men at Engine 10 "will do their best to make things pleasant for him at the station."  The article intimated that Murray's commission was probably due to the influence of Henry Sturgis Russell, Boston's fire commissioner at the time. Nineteen years earlier, as Boston's police commissioner, he appointed the first African American Boston policeman, Horatio J. Homer. Commissioner Russell was also a first cousin of Col. Robert Gould Shaw and several days after Murray’s commission, Colonel Shaw and the 54th Regiment's Memorial was dedicated on Boston Common. It was Memorial Day, May 31, 1897.

Murray, according to the Globe, was probably the "happiest colored man" in the city of Boston and that ever since he left school previous to his learning the machinist trade, "he was filled with the desire of joining the fire department...that the appointment was a complete surprise, but he always believed that if a colored man could successfully pass the required examinations his color would not be a bar to his getting into the department." Murray had twice passed the civil service examination but, according to the Globe, "the first time he certified he was not drawn owing to a mistake. But as he was determined to go upon the fire department force, he tried again and passed."
Engine 10 1895
The Globe reported that in several towns throughout Massachusetts, "there are colored men who are regular firemen. Cambridge has the record of appointing America's first African American regular fireman on a city fire department, Chief Engineer Patrick Henry Raymond. Among the large cities in the east, Boston has the record of having the first one. In Pittsburg there are four colored fireman and in Chicago there is a regular a company."

For reasons undiscovered to date, Augustus Henry Murray's dream of becoming a Boston fire fighter was not realized for long. Within two years after his appointment to Engine 10, the 1900 Federal Census, as well as his marriage certificate filed later that same year, listed his occupation as a machinist. Murray remained a machinist until his death on May 25, 1938. Interestingly, his obituary reported, "For several years he was connected with the Fire Department." Therefore, it is a proven fact of history that, regardless the short time of his commission, Augustus Henry Murray was the City of Boston's first commissioned African American fireman.

Engine 10 1895

Col. Henry Sturgis Russell 

Patrick Henry Raymond

54th Regiment Memorial

Photo Credits:

Engine 10 (1895) – Boston Fire Historical Society
Patrick Henry Raymond – Cambridge Archives
Col. Henry Sturgis Russell – Boston Fire Department Annual Report
Drawings – Boston Globe Articles


Blogger The Center for Church and Prison said...

This is good information Bill. Thanks for the great work. Rev. Walters

9:51 AM  

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