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Museum History

The African American Firefighter Museum (AAFFM) opened its doors on December 13, 1997. The dedication of the AAFFM also served as acknowledgement of what was then believed to be the city’s first 100 years of service by African American Firefighters (1897-1997). However, in 2002, a Los Angeles Times historian contacted the AAFFM with information to indicate our history started before 1897. We can confirm that Sam Haskins was the first Los Angeles fireman of African descent. Haskins was hired in 1892 and killed while responding to a fire in 1895. Entering the AAFFM, located across the street from the historic Coca-Cola Building on South Central Avenue in Los Angeles, California, is like taking a step back in time. The museum resides inside Fire Station No. 30, one of two segregated firehouses in Los Angeles between 1924 and 1955.

Prior to building Belmont High School in 1924, the city was a very deserted place. However, when the school was built, the department, community, and school district became concerned about school children looking African American firefighters in positions of authority; therefore, the city relocated the African American firefighters to Station #30. The particular area where the station is located happened to be where many Black residents moved to when migrating to Los Angeles. In 1936, the LAFD opened Station #14 at 34th St. and Central to Black firefighters. Making it the second station that Black firefighters could be assigned to. When the stations became integrated in 1955, firefighters from Station #30 and #14 were transferred to other stations and were met with extreme hostility.

The Black firefighters who served at integrated stations were forced to eat separately, as well as provide their own kitchen supplies and utensils, unable to eat with their white counterparts. In June of 1955, Firefighter Rey Lopez took a photo of a sign reading “White Adults” and Hartsfield submitted it to the media. This photo exposed the racism within the fire department and led to more equal rights in the fire service. Today the AAFFM stands as the first and the only free-standing museum dedicated to African Americans in the fire service in the United States. The museum gallery is located on the second floor with pictures, artifacts, and other memorabilia of African-American firefighters from around the country.

The building is a Los Angeles Historic Cultural Monument and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.The African American Firefighter Museum has a long track record of public humanities programming through tours, expert-led talks, workshops, and community events. In addition, we provide school-based programming through our Junior Fire Cadet Program and Future Firefighter Program. Other community engagement activities encompass disaster preparedness, leadership training. We count the Los Angeles Public Library, the Stentorians Organization, the American Red Cross Loss Angeles Region, and the Los Angeles Conservancy among our many community partners.

Past Events

Engaging the community using an educational framework is the museum’s key goal in teaching the history of African American firefighters in Los Angeles. Past programs include presentations, exhibition-specific tours, oral history seminars, family days, and docent training. In 2022, the museum successfully hosted hybrid events consisting of in-person and virtual components.