This Black History Month, Gryphon is proud to pay tribute to four individuals, who, in their own time and place, fought for justice, safety and security through their investigative and inventive work. Whether in the early 1900s or the 2020s, these men and women have set a precedent and blazed a trail for multitudes to follow.
James Wormley Jones is believed to be the first African-American hired by the Bureau of Investigation (later to become the FBI) in 1919 as a special agent. He was born in 1884 in Hampton, Virginia, and before joining the FBI served as an Army Captain during World War I and worked as a police officer in Washington, D.C. Because of his explosives training in the army, he provided expertise in the FBI’s General Intelligence Division and worked undercover as “Agent 800.” Jones infiltrated several nationalist organizations to expose Ku Klux Klan and Communism operations. Even with his cover later blown, he still went on to work on auto theft and prostitution investigations. His brother, Paul, was also a notable detective in the police force known for investigating and catching con artists. As we honor James and Paul, we acknowledge that we still have a ways to go. According to NPR, 80 percent of the FBI’s special agents are white, with only 5 percent Black, however the bureau has openly shared its determination to increase diversity in its ranks.
The NAACP’s Investigator
Many of our history books have highlighted only one of Rosa Parks’ many courageous efforts in her fight for civil rights and equality. However, long before the 1955 Montgomery, Alabama bus boycotts, she worked as a lone investigator for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) to fight for justice for the false accusations against Black men for sexual assault and the brutal attacks on Black women by white men. Rosa, herself a victim of attempted assault, established the “Committee for Equal Justice for Mrs. Recy Taylor” with the NAACP when Recy was raped by seven white men who accused her of abusing a white boy. Rosa worked to get the crime national attention and Recy’s day in court. The men ended up not facing any charges, but a small justice came almost seven decades later in 2011. According to History.com, the Alabama House of Representatives approved a resolution apologizing to Recy Taylor for what they characterized as the state’s “morally abhorrent and repugnant” failure to prosecute.
The First CCTV
Before the Ring, Nest or ADT, home security systems were nonexistent, much less connected to phones or computers. Marie Van Brittan Brown was born and raised in Queens, New York, and invented not just the first home security system, but the first closed circuit television. She, along with her husband, created the system out of necessity. Marie often walked home from work late at night after her shift ended as a nurse. Because of the time it took to get law enforcement to Queens in a timely manner, she took matters into her own hands and built a system that relied on wireless technology to visually capture who might be at a front door, assess if it was an intruder and have an option to unlock the door for a known person or call the police with the push of a button.
While we reflect this month on the achievements of the past, it is also important to note the work still being done every minute of every day, and the milestones still happening in the present day. While it is long overdue, the Westchester County District Attorney’s office, where Gryphon is headquartered, just named the first-ever Black and first-ever woman to serve as a senior criminal investigator last April. Latheia Smith began her career in 2003 with the Mount Vernon Police Department, where she investigated narcotics and street crime. In 2009, she began working for the Westchester County DA’s office on the Criminal Investigators Squad. Today, she leads investigations into elder abuse, child abuse and human trafficking on the Criminal Investigators Special Prosecutions Unit. “Working at the Westchester County District Attorney’s Office has provided me with the opportunity to serve the County that I live in by working cases and assisting agencies with their investigations,” Smith said. “As a law enforcement officer, my ability to help victims and their families while they are going through a criminal matter is incredibly rewarding. I’m thrilled to be promoted to Senior Criminal Investigator, and am proud to not only be the first woman in that role but also the first Black woman.”
Gryphon is proud to honor these men and women not only in observance of Black History Month, but each and every day of the year. Our commitment to equal rights for all extends to equal representation, opportunity to contribute and a voice in all meaningful discussions.