San Bernardino

Leaving a Legacy of Open Doors and Broken Barriers: Jimmy Jews' Mark Left in San Bernardino

From the first Black firefighter to the first Black fire captain in San Bernardino, Jimmy Jews' legacy of addressing discrimination and injustice runs deep.

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Jimmy Jews transferred out of the San Bernardino Police Department into the Fire Department in 1971 on account of his request. But his wife Veatrice Jews says it actually wasn't easy for him to get that job.

Facing and fighting the challenges, though, Jimmy worked his way up and became the first Black captain at the department. For these momentous achievements and efforts to undo systems of discrimination and prejudice over his career, the San Bernardino City Unified School District recently honored Jimmy after his passing in November 2020.

When Jimmy first applied to the fire department, Veatrice says there was a political undercurrent motivating his and other Black people's interest.

"The city councilman was an African American and he decided that the fire department needed to be integrated, and all the African Americans that were taking the test never passed," she said.

Jimmy was one of them.

"I knew that was wrong," said Veatrice.

But he had another avenue of opportunity. As a San Bernardino police officer, he could request a transfer to the fire department.

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"And he had a good record on the police department, so they couldn't deny him," added Veatrice.

But upon entering the firefighting force he vied and pushed for, he wasn't welcomed by his coworkers but discriminated against. Veatrice says they even demanded Jimmy sleep in a different part of the firehouse.

"[He] let them know where he stood that he wasn't going to take what they were giving but he wasn't going to leave," said Veatrice.

This fighting spirit propelled him further in the department, and he moved up the ranks to arson investigator.

Jimmy had aspirations for fire captain that Veatrice says were, again, being curtailed.

She says when the captain would go away on vacation, Jimmy would substitute. When he applied for the post, though, he was denied.

Jimmy finally caught his break and got the job when a group of citizens went to the city and threatened with a lawsuit against the city, she said.

His determination and spirit couldn't be hidden, and his legacy lives on in the opportunities he has helped other people of color gain.

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