Carl Holmes joined the Oklahoma City Fire Department in 1951 as one of its first group of African American firefighters. When he left three decades later, he had trained generations of firemen, risen to the rank of Assistant Fire Chief, and created an improved system of departmental promotions that emphasized performance rather than favoritism, race or gender. His promotional metrics not only improved OKC policy, it was adopted in communities across America.
Facing lingering Jim Crow era discrimination the first years of his career, Holmes commanded an elite level of excellence from his black subordinates. “I looked at it strictly as it had to be done, and whatever the task was in front of me, to get it done.”
Following his 1981 retirement, metropolitan giants like Chicago and Los Angeles courted him to become their head fire chief. He chose instead to devote his efforts toward developing minority firefighters and fire department leaders. Just one of the initiatives spawned by his efforts is Florida A&M University’s Carl Holmes Executive Development Institute. For more than a quarter of a century, it has graduated black firefighters who now lead their departments as officers, chief officers, assistant fire chiefs, and fire chiefs.
Yet, Holmes told OKC’s KFOR television not long before his death, “What was most important of everything I’ve ever done was to make it better for the next people.”
The above article is a bonus to the fascinating historical content found within our book
Oklahomans Vol 2 :
Statehood - 2020s
which can be purchased HERE.
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