Plaque unveiled for first black Utica police officer

By Gary Libratore

(WKTV) - The Utica Police Deptartment chose Black History Month to honor the department's first  black officer, William Yearby.

The department unveiled a plaque in Yearby's honor Monday, which can now be seen as you enter the lobby of Utica's Police Headquarters, the very same building Yearby began his police career in 1951.

Among those in attendance at Monday morning's unveiling were Yearby's two sons, Rodney and Joseph, and his daughter, Gloria, who all still live in Utica.

Joseph Yearby says his family feels this plaque is truly an honor and says because his father was hired long before the civil rights movement of the '60s ever began, it really is also a tribute to this city.

"It says we were ahead of the time, way ahead of the curve and that Utica was accepting to black people way before a lot of other cities in the Northeast," he said.

Rodney Yearby says having the plaque so prominently displayed inside police headquarters is a fitting tribute for a man who paved the way for others ahead of him.

"I've talked to older people who told me how even here in Upstate New York, places were segregated, and just to think even back then, although there was segregation, that people were getting along, and that's the message that we need, to move forward."

Utica Police Chief Mark Williams says his father, William Williams, and William Yearby attended the police academy together back in 1951.

"If you look at all the photographs and plaques on the wall, you don't see much of our minorities honored in that way, so this is long overdue," Williams said. "And more importantly the family has to be ecstatic, I know I am, for the fact that there's also from a personal note, his father was hired the same day my father was so, it's long overdue. And it's great for the family and we're pleased at the opportunity to honor him and the family today."

Chief WIlliams says many of the records all those decades ago have long been gone, and he personally wants to thanks the Yearby family for the photo of Officer Yearby in uniform that is displayed on the newly unveiled plaque.

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