Birmingham Police

Leroy Stover, Bham’s First Black Police Officer, Dies at 90

Leroy Stover, the first Black Birmingham patrol officer, died at 90. (Source: Birmingham Police Department)

Leroy Stover, the first Black to serve as a patrolman on the Birmingham Police Department, died Thursday. He was 90.

“Today, our hearts are heavy as we mourn the loss of former Deputy Chief Leroy Stover,” the police department released via social media. “As the first Black officer to integrate the Birmingham force, his legacy and work at the Birmingham Police Department paved a way for others to follow in his footsteps. We offer our full condolences to the family and know that he would forever be in our hearts and mind.”

Johnnie Johnson immediately followed Stover onto the force one day later, in March 1963. They were followed by Bob Boswell and Frank Horn.

“There aren’t a whole lot of folks that I call friends but he’s one of them that I call friend,” Johnson told BirmnghamWatch. “We worked together and we did things together. Not much off the clock but we did have a relationship and that only grew later. The longer we were there, the closer the relationship got.”

Stover and Johnson didn’t know one another until they went for physical exams two days before Stover was hired.

“We both went to the doctor together and we talked with each other,” recalled Johnson, who went on to become Birmingham’s first Black police chief. “That’s how we learned about the other.”


Police Resisted

Johnson said the first Black officers were often greeted with cold shoulders.

“A lot of officers said they would not work with Blacks,” Johnson said. “There were nights where there was no conversation between the two, the Black officer and the white officer. Even though you were riding in the same car and (you were reliant on each other), there was no conversation. There was no real relationship.”

A Wikipedia post cited Stover as having said he was racially abused on his first day on the force.

While other officers had their patrol cars pick them up from the station, according to his account, Stover had to catch a bus to meet his partner and patrol car and was only able to do so in time because the white bus driver went out of his route to take him to the right place.

Stover recalled that the senior sergeant had threatened to write him up as AWOL if he had not made it to his patrol car in time, effectively firing him on his first day. Stover and the other Black recruits were eventually permitted to go to the police academy after about eight months on the force, but white colleagues still refused to eat with them and played “pranks” on them, including dressing up as members of the KKK.

They also had their identities disclosed by white officers while working undercover — something that placed them directly in danger.

Johnson said Stover, Boswell and he were in the police academy together.

Boswell said it was “a little bit tough” for Stover in the beginning. He recalled Stover having said on his first night that white officers were “blowing smoke, like they were blowing smoke off the pistol.”

Was that to say the white officers were threatening to shoot Stover?

“Who knows?” Boswell said.

“Now that was not everybody,” Johnson said of white officers, “but that was a lot.”

On Dec. 22, 1966, Stover was singled out for praise by Birmingham Police Chief Jamie Moore for capturing a robbery suspect. Moore described it as “a good piece of police work.”

Said Boswell: “Jamie Moore was police chief. I don’t think he and (Public Safety Commissioner) Eugene ‘Bull’ Connor got along.”

Stover was sent to the West Precinct of the city after a dispute with his partner over racial profiling. After four years on the force, Stover had made the rank of sergeant and was subsequently promoted to lieutenant.

By 1989, Stover had risen to the rank of captain.

When Johnson ultimately rose to chief, his first move was to promote Stover to deputy chief.

“Soon as I made chief, I brought him with me,” Johnson said. “That’s what we did. We looked out for each other. That wasn’t solely the fact that he was a friend but the fact that he was very much qualified to do that.”

A new West Precinct station opened in 2015. The first purpose-built police station in the city was dedicated in Stover’s honor.