VULCAN SOCIETY INC. FDNY

Official web site of the Vulcan Society Inc.

HISTORY OF THE VULCAN SOCIETY

Wesley Williams was the third black male to join the New York Fire Department. The first was William H. Nicholson who was appointed in 1898 and shortly after detailed to the veterinary unit.  He retired in 1912. The second was John H. Woodson, 1914 - 1936, assigned to L-106 in Brooklyn. Wesley was appointed January 10, 1919 and assigned to Engine 55 in Manhattan. This was at a time when discrimination and segregation were the rule. The day young Wesley entered the company, the captain took a roll call, thanked the men for their support and left. He retired from the Fire Department the same day because he did not want the stigma of a Black man in his company.  All of the men requested transfers so they would not be forced to work with a Negro or colored man. Fire Department officials imposed a one year moratorium on transfers in hope that the men would adjust to Wesley. He endured discrimination at its worse.  Among the many instances, they would not speak to him and tried to get him to sleep in a bed in the cellar. They said they would speak to him if he slept in the cellar. He refused.  When he went upstairs to the bunks, they went down stairs.  He proved himself by showing how tough he was at fires and whipping butt in the cellar when they challenged him. Williams was promoted to Lieutenant in 1927, Captain in 1934 and Battalion Chief in 1938.  By 1940 there were 40 Black men in the Fire Department, all facing similar problems. Chief Williams suggested the men organize. The Vulcan Society was born. In 1944 the Vulcan Society forced a public hearing before the City Council to expose some of the segregated practices. As a result, a clause was passed in the regulations banning racial practices in the Fire Department.  Wesley Williams never held office in the Vulcan Society but was the spirited force behind the Society.  The Vulcan Society was the first organization to purchase lifetime membership in the NAACP. Wesley Williams died at 86 years on July 3rd, 1984.  Sculptress Tina Alan created a bronze statue of Chief Williams and it was presented at a ceremony marking Chief Wesley Williams Day at the Harlem WMCA on April 28th, 1990

The source of much of the above information was from a speech by Charles F. Williams, grandson of Chief Wesley Williams given at the Fire Department Museum during Black History Week on February 5th, 1990


John H. Woodson, the only Negro fireman in Brooklyn, has won distinction for daring rescues at a recent fire.

The Crisis  November 1916

 

The Crisis, founded by W.E.B. Du Bois as the official publication of the NAACP, is a journal of civil rights, history, politics, and culture and seeks to educate and challenge its readers about issues that continue to plague African Americans and other communities of color…..

Molly Williams was the first known female firefighter in the United States. An African American, she was held as a slave  belonging to a New York City merchant by the name of Benjamin Aymar who was affiliated with the Oceanus Engine Company #11 in 1818. During her time in the company she was called Volunteer No. 11.

Williams made a distinguished presence in her sturdy work clothes of calico dress and checkered apron and was said to be "as good a fire laddie as many of the boys." Her service was noted particularly during the blizzard of 1818. Male firefighters were scarce due to an influenza outbreak, but Williams took her place with the men on the dragropes and pulled the pumper to the fire through the deep snow.



Robert O. Lowrey   Fire Headquarters 1966

Robert O. Lowery was the first African American Fire Commissioner of New York City.  He was the Fire Department's  21st Fire Commissioner, serving from January 1, 1966 until September 29, 1973. He was also one of the founding members of the Vulcan Society.



Robert Turner ll was sworn in as 1st Deputy Fire Commissioner on August 11, 2014. He served in the rank of Battalion Chief as did his father, Robert Turner Sr.