My grandfather, Marcena W. Taylor (affectionately known by family as “Poppie”) was the first black fireman in the city of Detroit. He and Marvin White began as the first black firefighters on April 25th, 1938 Engine Co. 34.
In 1952 he became the first black officer when he was appointed Sergeant. He eventually became the first black Batallion Chief in 1969, he retired in 1971.
The Detroit riot of 1967 is a vivid memory. I remember standing in the front of our house and looking to the sky that was orange from all of the fires. I felt safe because I knew my grandfather was fight those fires. My grandfather was temporarily promoted to Battalian Chief and was hit in the head when a rock was thrown at firemen who were trying to put fires out.
My grandfather earned his Bachelors Degree from Livingston College and was member of the Phi Beta Sigma fraternity.
Have you ever stopped to think what it was like to be a first?
I found an excerpt online from a book that he is featured in that speaks about his first experiences as a fireman. Reading it makes me sad and happy. Sad that I do not have any of his stories or thoughts in written or audio format. Happy and proud that he made sacrifies so that others could benefit.
I have to be honest, I did not truly appreciate the magnitude of his sacrifice growing up. I knew who he was and what he had accomplished; (we had a wall of many plaques and awards), I was always very proud. I never took advantage of the opportunity to learn more about why.
Poppie never fussed at us, that was my grandmothers job. In the evenings we knew we could find him in the basement, in his favorite chair, watching the shows he loved, “All in the Family” and “The Jeffersons”. He was a jokester, always teasing and telling jokes.
I recently watched a documentary about Vince Lombardi and his daughter was speaking about the crowds of people standing on the street as the funeral procession passed by and how proud they were. It reminded me of my grandfathers funeral. His coffin was on the back of a fire truck, with lights flashing and a large police escort. The procession from the church to the cemetary passed by several fire houses with firemen standing in front at attention saluting as we rode by. Words cannot express how that felt, we know he was smiling about it.
In reflection of his life and the sacrifices of others, it is truly an inspiration to keep the good fight going. It is yet another testament to the possiblities when we keep our eye on the prize. The relations we build with one another should be one of support. Many have sacrified for us and we honor them through our accomplishments. We need one another in many ways that are not always evident at the time.
I so wish I had spoken more to him about his life and struggles and why he made some of the decisions he did. He and my grandmother, “Nana” provided a great childhood for my sister and I to ensure we always had what we needed and wanted.
“Human relationships always help us to carry on because they always presuppose further developments, a future –and also because we live as if our only task was precisely to have relationships with other people.” ~~Albert Camus