TULSA, Okla. —
Tulsa's first black firefighters started in 1956. Six men started out segregated, living on the opposite side of the station from their white coworkers.
"They had separate living quarters but when the alarm bell rang and they got a call, they were all one team," Tulsa firefighter Victor Grimes said.
Grimes said when the men across the station smelled the good cooking from the other side, the firefighters ultimately became friends. To this day, meal time and cooking together builds a special bond for the department.
Many of those who serve the Tulsa Fire Department today said their careers were shaped by those first six men on the department. For Grimes it was Merle Stripling, who lived across the street.
"Whenever I would see him he would always, you know, encourage me when I got on the job. Once I got on the job he always encouraged me to promote. Every time I would see him he would say: have you changed that badge yet?" he said.
In Oklahoma's senate, Bernard McIntyre was the second black man with a seat at the table, and the first to represent Tulsa. He created a legacy by making Oklahoma one of the first states to recognize Martin Luther King Day as a holiday, and changing juror restrictions to make it possible for his community to have a jury of their peers.
"The community needed it so much, because we had been beaten down so much. It's helped and... it's not where it should be but Lord, thank God it's not where it used to be," McIntyre said.
The men tell 2 Works for You as they reflect on this Black History Month, they feel hopeful.
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