MIAMI – Miami-Dade County's first black firefighter has died. Daniel James Hall Jr. worked as an electrician at Miami International Airport until he realized irefighters earned more money while working fewer hours.
Hall enrolled in the fire academy and, even though he endured disparate treatment and overt racism, he graduated in 1970.
But once fire chiefs realized he was black, academy officials had trouble placing him with area fire departments.
In those days, there was no requirement to include a person’s race on an application. Because Hall lived in Coral Gables and graduated from Palmetto High School, family members recall, he was hired by Miami-Dade’s fire department, likely because department officials believed he was white.
However, when Hall showed up for the test and orientation, supervisors checked his name several times to be sure he was supposed to be there.
Once on the job as Miami-Dade’s first black firefighter, there were times when Hall was required to sleep in the fire truck because the station was segregated. When he was provided sleeping quarters inside the firehouse, he would sometimes find his co-workers had urinated
on his bunk or soiled it with feces.
“He didn’t talk about those things much when we were kids and I can understand why,” his daughter Ora Daley said. “I wouldn’t have been able to go to work under those conditions but he got up everyday and faced it.”
Hall died on April 10 at his home following a long illness. He was 61.
Born Nov. 30, 1949, in segregated Miami, Hall spent much of his youth in Richmond Heights. He attended the all-black Mays and Carver high schools before desegregation had him bused to all-white Palmetto High, where he graduated in 1967.
He attended Miracle Valley Bible College in Arizona, where he met and married his wife Carolyn. The ouple served as traveling missionaries before settling in Miami to raise their family.
“My father was a hard working man, motivated by the need to take care of his family,” said Daley, the eldest of Hall’s six children. “I’m not sure I would have been able to put up with the things he went through.”
One of those affronts included the time when a white motorist ran a red light and crashed into the fire truck Hall was driving. Police didn’t believe a black person could be a firefighter and accused him of stealing the fire truck.
Mail sent to the station from the Ku Klux Klan was circulated in the workplace and offensive remarks were commonplace. Through it all Hall persevered, opening up opportunities for other blacks in the process, family, and friends said.
“Just anybody would not have been able to take all the things they did to him. He was smart and very good at his job and supervisors didn’t like that,” said the Rev. Clarence Brownlee, pastor of The Way Fellowship Church in Pembroke Pines and a retired Miami-Dade firefighter who was mentored by Hall. “Guys like me wouldn’t be here today if it was not for him and what he had to put up with because we stood on his shoulders.”
Brownlee said any mistake a black firefighter made meant automatic termination. Yet, their services were needed even more, because during riots of the 1970s and 1980s, they were the only ones who could go into those neighborhoods to put out the fires.
As more blacks were hired, the incidents of racism and job discrimination escalated. Promotions were rare and while blacks were allowed to pay dues to the firefighter’s union, they could not participate or compete for positions in the union. In 1977, Hall and others formed the Progressive Firefighters Association of Dade County, an organization of black firefighters.
“He moved up the ranks as fast as they would allow him. He had many firsts despite incredible odds,” Brownlee recalled. “He was a paramedic, the first black battalion chief and the
first black lieutenant. The community is indebted
Services were held on April 16.
Pictured Above: Daniel James Hall Jr