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Officer Charles Perry Williams Sr.
(March 3, 1887 Jan. 13, 1923)

Officer Charles Perry "C.P." Williams Sr. was the first black LAPD officer to be killed in the line of duty, but it took 75 years for Williams to finally receive the historical recognition he deserved, due to a clerical mistake.

Williams was born March 3, 1887, in Waco, Texas. After moving to Los Angeles, he worked for the Southern Pacific Railroad Co. as a dining car waiter before joining the LAPD on Aug. 13, 1920. At the time Williams joined the force, all black officers were assigned to Central Division. After completing his six-month probationary period, Williams was assigned to the division's Vice Squad.

In early 1923, Williams and his partner, Officer Arthur McClanahan, were working the undercover vice beat along Central Avenue, in the heart of the city's black community.

On Saturday, Jan. 13, 1923, at about 9:30 p.m., a tenant living at 1001 E. 8th St. called police to report a man waving a gun in front of the house and threatening the occupants and visitors, so Williams and McClanahan were sent to the address.

As members of the Vice Squad, Williams and McClanahan knew the house was a suspected brothel. But they didn't know that the man with the gun was the owner of the house, and he objected to prostitution on his property. In fact, earlier in the evening, the man had an altercation with a suspected customer leaving the building, and he called police to report the prostitution, and said he would be waiting for the officers when they arrived.

A few blocks from the house, the officers' car broke down. McClanahan stayed with the vehicle, and Williams walked to the house. As Williams rounded the corner of Stanford Avenue and 8th Street, he saw the man with the gun, and ordered him to put his hands up. Instead, the man turned and fired twice at Williams, hitting him once in the abdomen. Despite being hit, Williams returned fire, hitting the gunman in the lower leg. A passing truck driver took the fallen officer to Central Receiving Hospital on First Street, where he died that evening.

After the 50-year-old gunman was arrested early the next morning at his home less than a mile from the shooting, he told police that he thought Williams was the man he had the altercation with earlier in the evening, and claimed self-defense. He was charged with murder, but convicted of manslaughter, sentenced to 10 years, and sent to San Quentin State Prison. He served five years, and was paroled in April 1928.

Williams, 35, left his wife, Onida, 31, and their 4-year-old son, Charles Jr. Williams was buried at Evergreen Cemetery on Friday, Jan. 19, 1923, in a service attended by scores of city dignitaries, police officals and fellow officers. At the funeral service, Williams' supervisor eulogized the young officer with these words: "His achievements in the enforcement of the law will forever be a beacon of light, bearing testimony to those carrying on the work in years to come."

Unfortunately, Williams' widow was unable to afford a grave marker, so Williams' final resting place was unmarked for 75 years. Even worse, Williams' story, service and sacrifice were largely forgotten by the LAPD. In the department's archives, a photograph of another officer with the same name -- a white officer -- was attached to Williams' record.

Because of that error, when Officer Oscar Joel Bryant was shot to death by a robbery suspect on South Western Avenue in 1968, he was identified as the first black LAPD officer to be killed in the line of duty. (Shortly after his death, the Oscar Joel Bryant Foundation was formed to represent African-American officers and civilian employees who work for the LAPD and other law enforcement agencies throughout the county.)

In the late 1990s, LAPD Sgt. John Thomas was searching through old department documents and newspaper reports and discovered the mistake. "The record needs to be set straight," Thomas told the L.A. Times. He said he does not want to take anything away from Bryant's legacy, but "history needs to be corrected. Williams' story needs to be told."

And so, on July 29, 1998, 75 years after his death, and with assistance from the Los Angeles Police Memorial Foundation, Williams' grave marker was unveiled, etched with the words spoken by his supervisor at his memorial service.

In January 2010, the city bestowed an additional honor, and designated the downtown intersection of Central Avenue and 6th Street as "Officer Charles P. Williams Square."

Thomas is still cautious about definitively saying that Williams was the first black LAPD officer to be killed in the line of duty. "I believe there may have been others before him," Thomas told the Times when Williams' grave marker was unveiled. "Those were rough days in the city back then, and the record keeping was not the best. ... We may never really be certain who was the first."

Williams' sign is on the south side of East 8th Street, at Stanford Avenue.

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