Why You Should Visit the African American Firefighter Museum in L.A.
In celebration of Black History Month, Jave and I decided to pay a visit to the African American Firefighter Museum (AAFM) in downtown Los Angeles. While L.A. is home to the Los Angeles County Fire Museum (I’ve never been), before randomly learning about the AAFM somewhere online, I had no clue that a Los Angeles museum dedicated to black firefighters even existed.
Whether you have an interest in firefighting or not, for the sake of learning more about black history, here are some of the reasons why you should visit the African American Firefighter Museum during your visit to L.A.
It was the first black firefighter museum in the country
Although Chicago recently opened a black firefighter museum and Denver’s firefighter museum featured an exhibit to honor black firefighters, the Los Angeles museum was the first in the nation to open its doors to the public back in 1997 in conjunction with the 100 year anniversary of service by African American firefighters.
There’s a lot of great history here that gets ignored by the mainstream media
The museum’s founder, Arnett “The Rookie” Hartsfield, an attorney-turned-firefighter helped to integrate the L.A. Fire Department (LAFD), and it wasn’t an easy feat. Set in a former firehouse, the museum features a collection of vintage fire equipment, pictures, and other memorabilia chronicling the struggles and service of black firefighters in Los Angeles and around the country as they fought fires and racial injustices alike.
The docents are very passionate
During our visit, we were given a tour by a docent who became a museum volunteer after being moved during his visit to the museum years ago. He decided that when he retired, he’d volunteer there, and that’s exactly what he’s doing.
During our visit, we also met a firefighter who’s the only black diver with the LAFD (I didn’t even know the LAFD has divers!). This gentleman, along with our tour guide, did a great job of trying to convince me and Jave to join the force. We respectfully declined, but their efforts were clear proof of just how passionate they are about firefighting and about recruiting other African Americans to pick up the firefighting reigns for future generations.
For groups of less than 10, admission to the AAFM is free. Hello! Need I say more? While admission is free, the museum is a non-profit that’s operated entirely by volunteers and donations. Group tours can be arranged for specified donation amounts. Click here for more details about booking a group tour, and click here to make a donation.
You’ll leave with a whole new respect for black firefighters
During our brief tour of the museum, the docent did a great job of pointing out key black firefighters – including black female firefighters – in times past and present who endured bigotry without compromising their own dignity.
An example of such a firefighter was Earnest Roberts who, after a long night of fighting a fire, returned to the firehouse with his white peers only to be told by them that he wasn’t allowed to sleep in their same quarters. Instead, he was told that he had to stay up all night cleaning the station and equipment. As he worked, some of his white peers smeared feces on his pillow. Because he was so tired by the time he finally jumped in bed, he didn’t even notice the feces when he laid his head down. The next morning when he awoke, after finding out what his peers did to him, he was rushed to the hospital and treated for an anxiety attack. According to the story, all of Earnest’s hairs turned grey overnight. Yet, instead of quitting, he returned to work the next day. Eventually, Earnest retired from the force with over 30 years of service under his belt.
After our visit, Jave and I discussed the fact that there’s no way that we would’ve kept working there, but then I realized that if it hadn’t been for people like Earnest who endured such hate and persevered, the black community wouldn’t have ever progressed since there can’t be any progress without any struggle.
For more information about the AAFM, to make a donation, and/or to plan your visit, click here.
*Featured image source: African American Firefighter Museum.