tyler_police_badge.jpgTYLER, Texas (AP) _ The former police officer's steps are slower and deliberate; his gray hair is cropped short; and his dark brown, wrinkled face is lined with the memories he has lived. As Ira Brown's leathered hands turned the brittle pages of a faded photo album, the pictures come to life.

Sitting at a small kitchen table in his home, Brown, 86, spoke of his days with the Tyler Police Department and how he and three other African-Americans changed the racial makeup of a once all-white department.

In 1954, Brown, who had served as an MP in the United States Army in the Pacific, had a young wife and family to support when he got back home to Tyler.

When a trend across the nation to hire black officers made it to the Tyler Police Department, Brown found himself applying.

“More than anything, at the time I needed a job. I had a wife and child and needed to work, so I went and applied for the position,'' he said.

Brown and his new partner, Willie Johnson Jr., were selected and soon were commissioned as officers and set out on patrol in October 1954.

However, Brown said there were rules he and his partner had to follow that were different from the white officers.

“We drove the old police units and patrolled only the black communities. We didn't go into other parts of Tyler. Even if another officer was in trouble,'' he said.

As the years progressed, Brown said, the department saw the need for additional officers, and soon Alvin Anderson and W. Houston would be hired to help Brown and Johnson.

Anderson, who joined the department in 1955, worked as an officer until 1963, when he took a job at Stewart Middle School to coach.

“Oh, it was something back then. We had a lot of respect in the black community, and we were making strides in other areas, as well,'' Anderson said, sitting on a couch in his living room.

A shadowbox filled with mementos of Anderson's years as an officer hanged on a wall above the man who eventually would enter retirement in 1990 after several years as a Tyler Independent School District assistant superintendent.

Both men said they faced challenges and dealt with racism in the department they served, but there was a feeling that things were about to change.

“It was a way of life back then, but as we continued to put on our uniforms, we continued to gain more and more respect; we noticed that respect was not just coming from the black community anymore,'' Brown said.

Anderson said being an officer gave him confidence at using authority, and he used that authority to help mold young students' lives.

“We sure did help a lot of people back then, and what I learned with the police department followed me through life,'' he said.

Anderson said he was proud to have served as an officer in Tyler and that his shadowbox is one of his prized possessions.

Recalling his impact on families during his stint as an officer, Anderson said, “I even had young couples come to my door when the husband would get cross with his wife. I'd talk with them, and they would leave here with the husband respecting his wife.''

While Anderson worked within TISD, Brown continued with the police department and in 1968 was sent to the East Texas Police Aca-demy after the school was desegregated.

“Until then, not many of the Tyler officers had any formal training. You were put in a car with someone, watched them for a month, and then you were on your own,'' he said.

Brown said that as times changed, he and his fellow officers grew closer and the lines between white and black communities were erased.

After 30 years, three months and 23 days on the force, Brown hung up his gun belt and badge for retirement.

Smiling, Brown thought about his time as an officer and said his biggest contribution to the community was the young men who followed his footsteps to become officers after watching his example on the streets.

“Yeah, we had some good times, and I'm proud to have been one of the first black officers in Tyler and proud young black men chose to follow me into law enforcement,'' he said. “I truly feel blessed with my life.''