Odell Sylvester, 86, Oakland's first African American deputy police chief, stands in front of a wall in his home that commemorates many of his academic and law enforcement achievements Wednesday, March 23, 2011, in Oakland Calif.
is now retired and writing his
memoirs. (Deeba Yavrom/Staff)
high-rise lodging, Odell Sylvester
still keeps an eye on Oakland
and the city streets below, the same streets he
patrolled a half-century ago.
But, in truth, Oakland
should look up to him as a trailblazer.
achieved many important firsts in his
lifetime as the Thomas Edison of East Bay law enforcement.
rise through the Oakland
Police Department was unprecedented.
was the first African-American to attain the ranks of sergeant, lieutenant, captain and deputy police chief.
took it a step higher as Berkeley's first black police chief.
"It can be done," he
said of his
succession of firsts.
, 85, is almost finished writing his
memoirs, which he
has appropriately titled, "From The Bottom.
For he also was born in a Dallas district known as "The Bottom."
"It was a highly segregated place," he
"The water washed through the muddy streets."
Undaunted, he graduated from UC Berkeley in 1948, then earned a master's degree at the University of Southern California in 1974.
police promotions weren't tokenism; He
passed the same written examinations that many of his
white colleagues failed.
Sylvester took it, came out No. 1, and became the chief in 1977.
lasted three years on the job officially, but couldn't perform his
duties for a year because of what the media described as a back and neck ailment.
received a disability retirement, but says now that his
heart was the main problem in Berkeley
since has had two small heart attacks, and two pacemakers implanted in the past eight years.
Police work has changed dramatically since he
last wore the star.
"It's so much more politicized," he