Dowagiac dedicates police department to Michigan’s first black police chief

Published 4:30 pm Thursday, August 24, 2023

DOWAGIAC — Family, friends and community members gathered Thursday morning to celebrate the life and legacy of a Dowagiac native who also served as Michigan’s first African American police chief.

The City of Dowagiac honored Chief George Grady by dedicating the Chief George L. Grady Police Station with a ceremony.

On Aug. 16, 1965, George Grady (1933-1977) made history with his appointment by the City of Dowagiac as Chief of Police. Grady, a ten-year veteran of the force, became the first African American Chief of Police in Michigan history.

“This is a great day for the city of Dowagiac,” said City Manager Kevin Anderson. “I am just so pleased that so many people from the community have gathered here today to share in what we think is a very momentous moment where we can put a bookmark on a very important part of our city’s history that we will always be able to refer back to.”

The dedication ceremony featured remarks from both local leaders and members of the Grady family. Grady’s wife Cynthia, his three children, Dennis, Deborah and Ronnie, and several extended family members were present for the ceremony. Senator Gary Peters sent a certificate of senatorial recognition honoring the memory of Chief Grady that was presented at the ceremony.

Grady was born and raised in Dowagiac before joining the Navy in 1950, during the Korean War. He served as a deep-sea diver during his time in Korea, one of the first African Americans to perform that duty. When he returned to Dowagiac after the war, he joined the city’s Police Department.

In August 1964, the City of Dowagiac named Grady Acting Chief of Police. The City made it official one year later with its historic appointment of Grady as Chief of Police. The Dowagiac Daily News noted that he was put in charge of an all-white police force, with Mayor James Mosier saying that Grady was “one of the finest officers in the nation.” 

In addition to being the first Black Chief of Police in the State of Michigan, George Grady was the second Black Chief of Police in the United States and first since the late 1800s. Grady’s appointment set a precedent for the promotion of Black police officers while the country struggled with the issue of Civil Rights.

Chief Grady stepped down in 1974 due to health problems and died in 1977.

Grady’s legacy

Longtime residents and officers who served under Chief Grady remember him as a fair police chief who sought equal justice for all under the law. His appointment made headlines across the nation in 1965, which paved the way for communities across the nation to hire and promote African Americans to positions of power.

Among the many speakers were Dowagiac Area History Museum Director Steve Arseneau and  former Grand Rapids Chief of Police Eric Payne, a Dowagiac native who was appointed Chief of Police in 2019 after 32 years with the Department. Dowagiac Public Safety Director Steve Grinnewald was also on hand and shared his appreciation and admiration for Grady’s work.

“Chief Grady earned the respect of his fellow officers as well as his community. That’s difficult enough to do today,” he said. “Just imagine accomplishing that as a black officer and chief during that time in our country’s history. But Chief Grady served his country and returned to serve his community with honor.”

The city presented the Gradys with a bronze plaque that will be placed near the doors on the Front Street entrance to City Hall for all to see. Grady’s sons, Dennis and Ronnie, expressed their appreciation to the City of Dowagiac for honoring their father and thanked their mother Cynthia for raising the family after Grady’s death.

“If you come up here and touch it, you should feel the love he had for others,” Ronnie said. “Being a police officer was secondary to his passion and his admiration for people, from kids up to older people, it didn’t matter. He’d give you the shirt off his back.”

While the ceremony was in celebration of their father, Dennis and Ronnie made sure their mother was highlighted for supporting their father during his time as chief as well as the family after his passing.

“After my dad’s death, she never had time to grieve or formally process the situation,” Dennis said. “She had to go right back to work. She never took time off so Debbie, Ronnie and I could obtain college degrees. Constant sacrifice. To me, she deserves as much honor as my dad, she might not have a plaque, she might not have an exhibit in the museum or a newspaper article or trophy, but Ronnie, Debbie and I know who did what. She gave everything for us. Everything, without asking for anything back.”

Family, friends and community members believe Chief Grady set an example of competent and compassionate law enforcement for all that is still relevant today.

“George Grady showed that one man, with fortitude and courage, can inspire others to continue to fight against the poisonous forces of racism,” said Mayor Don Lyons. “And one thing we can never afford to do is give up that fight.”