MOORE, Okla. (KFOR) – The year was 1979 and in Moore, Oklahoma, history was about to be made.
Moore was hiring its very first African American police officer.
“His question to me was … ‘son, can you hoop’ I said ‘yeah, I actually played in high school,’ and he said ‘okay well I’m going to hire you…now you understand you’re probably going to have a difficult time down here because we don’t have many black families in Moore,’” remembers Nate Tarver.
Tarver was a college graduate from OU with a degree in broadcast journalism but chose law enforcement instead.
And it didn’t take long for Nate to find out what his boss meant about his new job and environment.
“Someone called into the dispatcher,” remembers Tarver. “And said ‘some [N-word] has stolen a police car from you guys.’ Because they had never seen a black man driving a police car.”
And even when Nate responded to an actual call, the response he got hurt and disappointed him.
He said more than once the homeowner would go back inside the house and call the police station again and say, “You guys have someone impersonating a police officer here. Can you send a police officer to check him out?”
Nate goes on to say, “and the station would ask me where I was, and I would say, ‘I’m at that location’ and they would say to the resident ‘that is one of our police officers.’ And the homeowner would say ‘well you need to send a white police officer cause I’m not going to talk to him or I’m not going to let him in our house.’”
And Tarver says Moore, like other cities around the metro, was a so-called “Sundown Town.”
“If you were black you shouldn’t be there after dark,” remembers Tarver.
And if people of color were seen in town after sunset… a signal went out on the police radios.
“They had a special code for black people, and it was called a signal 50. I asked one of the guys, ‘Signal 50. What is that?’ And they told me, ‘Oh that’s if we have a black person in town.’ And you know everyone would check them out.’ Basically, to encourage them that they probably need to go somewhere else.”
But, Nate found most of the white officers in Moore rallied around him.
“Some of the officers weren’t actually happy that I was there either,” says Tarver. “But I will tell you that the vast majority of them treated me very well and it’s because of how they treated me and I felt like they were watching out for me is why I made it because you can’t do all that by yourself.”
One of those white officers was Gary Whisenhunt.
“I know he got hurt,” Gary told us. “You know there were things said that hurt him along the way. He just kind of brushed it off and kept on fighting.”
Nate Tarver served 10 years with the Moore Police Department.
He went on to become an OKC police officer and is now the Chief of Police for the OU Health Sciences Center Police Department.
But, despite the challenges, he looks back on that decade in Moore as a very special part of his life.
“Moore is a great city. I look at that experience fondly.”
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