Minneapolis renames street after city’s first Black fire captain

Francis Akhalbey March 22, 2022
Captain John Cheatham became Minneapolis' first Black fire captain in 1899 -- Photo Credit: City of Minneapolis

A street in Minneapolis was on Thursday renamed to honor the legacy of the city’s first Black fire captain, John Cheatham. According to KARE 11, the street, which was initially named Dight Ave., will now be called Cheatham Ave.

Born into slavery in 1855, Captain John Cheatham worked at the Minneapolis Fire Station 24. He was ultimately appointed as the city’s first Black fire captain in 1899. But Cheatham, who retired in 1911, did not have it easy as he had to endure racism and oppression.

“He was born a slave in Missouri, and our family followed the Mississippi river up to Minnesota,” Cheatham’s great-great-great-nephew, Alcindor Hollie, told KSTP-TV. “Having a street named after him, seeing all the African American firefighters, he definitely paved the way for that.”

The application to honor Cheatham was spearheaded by City council member Andrew Johnson as well as members of the community, KARE 11 reported.

“We owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to Captain John Cheatham and his fellow Black firefighters who so courageously stepped up to serve and protect the residents of our community, despite the unending racism and oppression they faced,” said Johnson. “Seeing John Cheatham’s name raised high serves not just as a reminder of his legacy, but also his example, which is one for all of us to follow.”

During the ceremony to unveil the honorary street sign, incumbent Minneapolis Fire Chief Bryan Tyner touted Cheatham’s legacy and that of other trailblazing Black firefighters.

“I have always believed that I stand on the shoulders of those pioneering Black firefighters who came before me,” Tyner said. “As the first Black fire captain in the City’s history, Captain John Cheatham certainly presents a broad set of shoulders. His perseverance and service made it possible for me and others to serve this City as Black firefighters and set the path for me to eventually serve the City as its fire chief.”

Cheatham Ave. initially bore the name of Charles Fremont Dight, the founder of the Minnesota Eugenics Society. Dight, who was also a physician and a Minneapolis alderman, was also known to support Adolph Hitler, KARE 11 reported. In 1933, Dight wrote a letter to Hitler commending his endeavors to “stamp out mental inferiority among the German people.”

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: March 22, 2022


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