By Kevin Coughlin
The term “community policing” is heard around Morristown quite a bit these days. But George P. Jenkins Sr. was practicing it here decades ago.
His son has been hearing the stories all over again since his father, a retired detective lieutenant, passed away earlier this month in Florida after a long illness. He was 92.
Invariably, the stories involve a ride in a patrol car, and a second chance.
“My dad was a very unusual cop, even for that day,” George P. Jenkins Jr. recounted.
“When he had the opportunity, he would rather grab a kid and take him home and tell his parents than take him to the station. In those days, kids were more scared of their parents than they were of going to jail. He took a community approach. It’s what made him unique.”
A memorial service is scheduled for Saturday, Jan. 14, 2017, in Orlando.
When George Sr. started his police career in 1951, he was one of Morristown’s first African American officers.
After racial tensions flared in the early ’70s at Morristown High School, his alma mater (’42), he was named to head a new Community Service Unit, based initially at the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer, where he served as a warden and sang in the choir.
He also volunteered with the American Red Cross, the Fair Housing Council, the Urban League, the NAACP, and the American Cancer Society, according to his obituary.
‘POWER COUPLE’ MADE LASTING IMPACT
With his first wife, the late town Alderwoman Beatrice Jenkins, George Sr. created the Young American Cancer Society, a youth group that arranged newspaper drives for the charity.
“They were a power couple back in those days,” said George Jr.
That power continues to be felt: Beatrice Jenkins was lead plaintiff in the lawsuit that created the integrated Morris School District in 1971.
Morris Township was planning to build its own high school, a move some feared would be disastrous for Morristown. It was an emotionally charged battle.
“Both of my parents felt that they grew up in a very diverse school system; they felt that their education–not just from an educational standpoint, but from being in that environment–was very important, for youths in Morristown and Morris Township.
“They said, ‘Look, there’s more to education than book-reading,'” said George Jr., a realtor who lives in Morris Plains.
George Jenkins Day was proclaimed in Morristown in 2004, more than two decades after the detective retired. He also had served as president of the Morris County Blue Coats, an organization of black police officers, said his son
Among the honors George Sr. earned in a career spanning more than 30 years was a valor award for rescuing a woman from a burning building.
He responded to an armed robbery in a bank, according to family friend Deenie Schlosser.
Yet when George Sr. wanted to buy a home on Ridgedale Avenue, no bank in town would give him a mortgage, said Schlosser, whose late husband Sid, a realtor and insurance broker, was friends with the officer.
“Ridgedale was segregated. The bottom was black. The top was white. Mayor Parsons Todd gave him a mortgage,” said Schlosser.
“I loved him dearly,” she said of George Sr. “He was a sweet, nice man. He and Sid had each other’s backs.”
DEALING WITH DISCRIMINATION
During his police days, George Sr. started the A & B Cleaning Service with Morris Township’s first African American patrolman, Charles Anderson. They named the business for their wives, Amy and Beatrice.
Discrimination did not faze the officers, Amy Anderson said.
“When you’re black, you encounter a lot of things in your lifetime. It still exists. But it was a lot worse in that time,” said the widow, remembering both men as amiable and calm. “You just take it one day at a time.”
Occasionally, George Jr. was recruited to help his father when the A & B crew failed to show up. Late-night cleanups of schoolmates’ homes proved humbling, George Jr. said, and convinced him to pursue a college degree.
He said the compassionate cop could be a tough parent — a legacy of growing up with 15 siblings and half-siblings.
George Sr. was raised by a man who felt an iron fist was needed to rule a brood so large, George Jr. said. That attitude was passed down.
“Once, my dad gave me a good smack across the face, pretty hard,” recollected the son, now 68.
“When I got myself together, I said, ‘What was that for? I didn’t do anything.’ He said: ‘That’s for the time I didn’t catch you.'”
They would clash during the turbulent 1960s. The cop was a World War II Navy veteran. The son identified with the Black Panthers, and got arrested for peacefully protesting the Vietnam War in a town parade.
As George Jr. reached adulthood, however, he came to admire his dad. Testimony from people around town made an impression.
“People would approach me–even today–and say, ‘If you’re half the man your father was, you’re okay with me.'”
Saturday’s service is set for 11 am at St. Mary of the Angels Episcopal Church in Orlando. George Jenkins Sr. is survived by his wife, Jessie Alston, a Morristown woman he married in 1989; children George P. Jenkins Jr. and Bruce and Brenda Jenkins of Charlotte, NC; a daughter-in-law, Lisa Jenkins, and two grandchildren, Janaya and Charles. Other survivors include three sisters, Charlotte, Frances, and Mickey; two brothers, Ralph and Rudolph; stepchildren, grandchildren, nephews and cousins.
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