KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — The late Robert “Al” Goodwin, the first African-American police officer to retire in Kalamazoo, has been awarded a long-overdue and well-deserved honor.
In front of the Kalamazoo City Commission Monday night, Goodwin was promoted to sergeant 20 years after his death.
Goodwin was the second African-American officer in Kalamazoo, serving on the department for 25 years before retiring in 1976. He started on the force in 1951. To simply say ‘times have changed’ in Kalamazoo since then doesn’t quite say enough.
“He had to fight for everything,” Goodwin’s wife, Juanita Goodwin, told 24 Hour News 8.
She said her husband broke racial barriers within the city and the department.
“Even among other members of the police department, he had trouble with a few of them, and he had trouble with people understanding that he had rights,” Juanita Goodwin said.
But Al Goodwin wasn’t like every officer –- or person, for that matter. He had a contagious personality and loved to make others laugh. He also had the courage to cause change. Juanita Goodwin distinctly remembers her husband’s bold declaration after his first probationary year on the force.
“He said, ‘I’m going to tell ‘em — I’m going to ride today. I am not walking. I’ve walked this beat for 12 months and all those rookies who’ve been coming in a riding around… somebody’s moving today,’” she said.
The next day, Al Goodwin had a riding position on the force.
Now, some 65 years later, the Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety finally promoted him to sergeant. It was as clear — even in death — his impact is still felt in the city and by the officers who vow to protect it.
Juanita Goodwin and other family members were there as the proclamation was made in the city commission chambers. Also there were a number of African-American KDPS officers, including Deputy Chief Donald Webster.
“Al means the world to me. When you think of an individual who stepped out back in the 50s to be a law enforcement officer, to do 25 years in law enforcement — I mean, he paved the way,” Webster told 24 Hour News 8. “He gave someone like myself hope that I could be a law enforcement officer and raise up through the ranks. He’s a pioneer here. This recognition is well overdue.”
But the woman at Al Goodwin’s side is deserving of recognition as well. Juanita Goodwin — who just turned 90 — was one of the first African-American teachers and administrators in Kalamazoo — though she said that doesn’t often cross her mind.
“Well, you don’t think about that. All you think about is doing the job,” she said.
While simply ‘doing the job,’ the pair has forged a new path for the black community in Kalamazoo.
“A lot of people don’t understand what it is to have courage, to stand up for what you believe in. And it takes a lot of guts to do that,” Juanita Goodwin said.
While she commended the department for honoring her late husband, she also acknowledged that the nation still has work to do in battling racial issues, not only within police departments but also between police and the communities they serve.
The Goodwins have two children. The pair were married 46 years before Al Goodwin died in 1996.