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Retired Jacksonville officer honored by FOP after decades of discrimination

Charles Scriven was the first African- American to advance to chief at JSO

At 86 years old, Charles Scriven has seen a lot in his life: 15 presidents, five wars, segregation and the civil rights movement, but some of his most memorable moments were with the Jacksonville Police Department, which is what it was called when he was hired in 1955 -- a decade before consolidation. He would go on to become the first African American officer in Jacksonville to advance to the level of chief.

To understand his journey as an officer and decades of being denied the rights and privileges of white officers, you go back several decades. 

"We had what we called a Negro precinct. We only worked in then the Negro community. We had all kinds of limitations, said Scriven."

In the 1950s Jacksonville and almost everywhere else in America was segregated. Scriven was a cop, but he could not arrest white people. Their precinct was underneath a blacks-only swimming pool near the intersection of Jefferson and Fourth streets.

Mayoral candidates needed the black vote to get elected citywide, so some would promise different things that the black community needed. They wanted black police officers and a pool.

"This swimming pool was built as a promise to the Negro community and the first Negro precinct was a room downstairs under the pool," said Scriven.

The first African American officers in Jacksonville were hired in 1950. It happened again in 1953 and then in 1955, when Scriven joined. Though there were black officers, they were not allowed to enforce the law with white people. They had to call a white supervisor to handle it if they thought a white person had broken the law.

Scriven said he succeeded because of the support of his wife and family. Scriven and his wife -- high school sweethearts -- bought their first home in 1977, two years after he joined the police department. It was a symbol of heaven for his family.  

"A kind of peace, and the main thing was that we had a job that paid with salary and labor to get a home," said Scriven.

The same year they bought the home, Scriven applied to join the Fraternal Order of Police -- the officers' union. He said he was denied about 20 items over the decades. Scriven said he met with the national FOP president who agreed the union had a nondiscriminatory policy, yet he was denied membership again.

Scriven didn't give up. His faith in getting the respect and membership that he deserved came from determination rooted in humble beginnings in the tight-knit community of Durkeeville.

"This was a dirt road. .. There was six of us -- three girls and three boys. My mother was a full-time mother, especially with six children, and my father was a laborer for the Florida Times-Union," said Scriven.

His own family blossomed, with four kids and six grandchildren. They adore him. 

Records show Scriven was accepted to the FOP in 1996 but no one told him, so in 2018, he requested membership again. That's when current FOP President Steve Zona found out about the battle for membership Scriven had been fighting for decades. Zona drove to Tallahassee to meet Scriven and apologized on behalf of the FOP. 

Scriven, in his tradition of doing what's right, also wanted a public apology before his wife of 65 years and family. That came June 18 of this year in a room packed with former police chiefs, mayors and current officers.

"Today, to make something that was wrong a long, long time ago right and I can look at you today," said Zona. "On behalf of myself and on behalf of the FOP, we are truly sorry and apologize for what happened to you back in 1957."

Applause filled the room. Scriven looked on into the crowd, which included his wife, children and friends.

Scriven had waited for that moment for a long time.

"People need to know the truth and move from where they are. I sought to do that and I did not hesitate to do what I thought was right in this sight of God and the service of this community," said Scriven. "For some 40 years I was denied membership and all I wanted was to have a chance to be a part of an organization that played a major role in my livelihood."

Scriven said that he simply wanted to have the same rights as any other police officers who put their life on the line every day. 


About the Author:

Jenese Harris

Reporter, weekend anchor and movie reviewer.