January 22, 2022 UPDATE:
A man who potentially forged the way for black leaders and public servants of all kinds in the capitol city has died.
Joe Lewis Land, born in 1939, died on January 11 of this year. His funeral was held January 22.
The staff of Darkhorse Press offers our deepest sympathies to the family, and our deepest respect for the courage and heart of Joe Lewis Land.
(From here to the end of the story was written by Darkhorse Press’ Therese Apel during her time at the Clarion-Ledger)
April 27, 2017 UPDATE:
Jackson Police Department Chief Lee Vance and Mayor Tony Yarber presented Land with a Lifetime Achievement Award. Yarber stated that it’s “just the first of many” honors that will be bestowed upon Land by the city.
Land’s family was also honored by the department for their bravery and loyalty. The ceremony was attended by officers, family, friends and city officials.
In those pictured in a photo of the Jackson Police Department’s first six black officers taken in 1963, only Joe Land is still alive.
Joe Land, with wife Mary, holds a portrait of himself with former fellow Jackson police officers. Land was the first African-American officer to serve in the Jackson Police Department.
He was the first of the six to take the oath in June of that year, though it was never his goal to be a police officer.
Then Mayor Allen Thompson decided, Land said, to make him the first black police officer in Jackson as the demand for racial equality on the police force began to rise. Land had been the manager over the caddies at Jackson Country Club, where he met the mayor.
“I went to my job at the country club, and my supervisor told me that I wasn’t employed there anymore,” Land said. “‘You’ve got to go up to Jackson Police Department and be sworn in to be a police officer.’
“I said, Sir?’
“He said, ‘Yep, we hate to lose you, Joe, but you’ve got to go.’”
He went to City Hall and was sworn in that day. Land said he then spent three months in the car with Chief Charles Williams, which was a help because he’d never handled a gun before. He said he knew literally nothing about being a police officer.
The Jackson Advocate’s story on the city’s first “Negro policeman” listed his height and weight as part of his description. He had no arrest powers over white people, and when he needed a white person arrested, he had to call for backup. He and partner William Carter walked a beat from Amite Street to Davis Street, including Lynch and Farish streets.
(Story continues after Clarion-Ledger video)
Land, now 80, was treated differently at first, he said, not only because of race but because he was a rookie — all the rookies got hazed.
“It’s just like being in the Army. They’re going to make you do duties they’ve already done, they have you doing the dirty work. They had us doing a lot of old crazy things,” he said.
Land prefers to focus on the positive aspects of his 2½ years on the force, but he recalls some trying times. Some of the black officers had been in the military and, when they went to qualify with their weapons, they had to relearn how to hold a weapon. They were yelled at if they held their guns incorrectly. Land said they were treated harshly for it, and he suspected it was because they were black.
Land’s wife, Mary, remembers her fear during those days. It wasn’t just the normal fear that comes with being a police officer’s wife, but the fear of being married to the first black officer in Jackson in racially charged 1963.
“They called them ‘Weary Feets’ because they walked all day and came home exhausted,” said Mary Land. “But Joe had rough treatment. Very rough treatment. Even his own color didn’t want to accept him. They’d get on the other side of the street and make fun of him and call him names. I won’t say the names but you know how they do, and it was a low blow for Joe.”
Daughter Sharon Land recalls the pride she felt as a child, knowing her father had broken the race barrier at JPD.
“People really respected him and that always meant something to me as a child, because people wouldn’t mess with me. Especially the boys. They’d say, ‘Oooooh, don’t mess with that one, that’s Big Joe’s daughter,'” she said. “That always made me feel really good. I’ve always had the honor of my dad being the first, that was miraculous to me.”
Jackson’s first six black officers, from left: James Earl Johnson, Allison Weathersby, Joe Land, Levaughn Carter, Charlie Corley and William Carter.
There were two black officers on each shift to begin with, six in all. In that iconic photo, James Earl Johnson, Allison Weathersby, Land, Levaughn Carter, Charlie Corley and William Carter stand as the trailblazers for black officers in Jackson law enforcement. Both Hinds County Sheriff Victor Mason and Jackson Police Chief Lee Vance have copies of the photo on their walls.
“I think obviously the link between Mr. Land and individuals like me who came behind him is pretty clear,” Vance said. “During those times, breaking color lines as far as being the first to be a law enforcement officer in the city was basically national news in some circles, so it was a very big deal and took a lot of courage and perseverance.”
Mason grew up not far from Land’s house, and as a young black man wanting to follow a law enforcement career, he said he worshiped Land. When the time came to decide if he was going to take up the badge, he went to talk to Land. The two remain friends to this day.
“I always say how he’s my hero. He’s just a real role model for all of us, and he was never really recognized,” Mason said. “Even though he went through so much — hell and high water — he didn’t break, and he is still here today to tell the story and pass it on the rest of us. These young officers behind me need to know the truth: This is the guy who opened the door for us. He took slings and arrows, and the Lord couldn’t have picked a better man to do it.”
Mason’s voice became thick with pride when he recounted the day he was sworn in as sheriff and heard a familiar voice through the crowd.
“I heard someone calling my name and I turned around, and he held up his hand and said, ‘I got you in there,'” Mason said. “I couldn’t help but tear up when I heard that. He’s one that I will never ever stop thanking.”
Through the years, the faces at JPD grew to reflect the city they serve. Vance said when his department hires, the color of someone’s skin is not a factor, and that is because of Land.
“Our demographics are reflective of our community, and most experts will tell you that’s the way it should be. But race is not the primary thing we’re looking for, we’re looking for quality individuals despite their color,” Vance said. “We can do that because Mr. Land proved that there wasn’t anything wrong with hiring someone who was not consistent with the status quo.”
When Land moved on from JPD, he eventually went back to the job he loved at the Jackson Country Club, overseeing caddies.
“Even in the talks that we had, he never said a bad word about anybody who mistreated him,” Mason said. “I asked him, ‘How can you smile after what they did?’ He said, ‘It was part of the job. The only thing I could change was me, and I accepted that.’
“He’s taught me a few things. I really applaud that man.”
Land’s own children talk about the example set by them for their father, who never asked to be chosen, but served with honor in a truly difficult capacity in trying times when he was.
“I knew my dad was a disciplined man and stood for something, and when he gave instructions they were carried out. The mayor chose him for the discipline he stood for, and he carried that out,” Sharon Land said. “Be mannerable, disciplined, intelligent, love the Lord, and be respectful.”
NOTE: Sheriff Victor Mason died of cancer in May 2021. Former Jackson Police Chief Lee Vance became sheriff after Mason’s death, and he died of complications of Covid-19 in August 2021.