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Black Officer Honored After 100 Yrs

August 10, 2000

BRYAN, Texas (AP) _ His place in Texas history remained lost for a century.

In 1900, Levi Neal was a black deputy marshal in the burgeoning agricultural town of Bryan. While there were quite a few black officers around the state and many on the state’s police force, Neal was somewhat of an anomaly for the time period.

On Feb. 24, Neal arrested a man for drunkenness in a downtown saloon area known as ``Rats Row″ and was walking him to jail when the prisoner pulled a pistol from under his coat. He shot the deputy dead.

Neal, 49, was buried in a separate cemetery for blacks. His grave marker was lost and he faded into obscurity until earlier this year when a state law enforcement organization uncovered that he was probably the first local black peace officer killed in the line of duty in Texas.

During a short ceremony on Wednesday, the Bryan Police Officers Association and other groups honored Neal’s memory by placing a headstone for him in the city’s cemetery.

``This story touched me deep down in my heart,″ Leroy Conerway, a sergeant with the Blinn College police department in Bryan, said during the dedication ceremony. ``As a black police officer, this is something I take pride in.″

The Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas and its president, Ronald Delord, unearthed Neal’s story while researching a book about Texas police officers killed in the line of duty.

``He was a man extraordinary for his time,″ Delord said. ``Back then to have survived in Bryan, making arrests and having been involved in two shootouts where three officers were killed, obviously he was a pretty tough character.″

During Reconstruction, the 10-year period following the Civil War in which abolitionists ruled the South, ``lots of blacks were appointed to the state police. Levi’s case was special because he was a black officer hired by a municipality. He was well liked. He was on the force for about 20 years. His funeral was attended by both blacks and whites in the community,″ Delord said.

Henry Dethloff, a retired Texas A&M history professor, said it would have been somewhat unusual for Neal to have worked in the Bryan area after the Civil War and Reconstruction.

``Bryan was not unlike the rest of Texas. It was a pretty rough world,″ Dethloff said.

Charley Wilkison, spokesman for the law enforcement group, said while he believes that race had something to do with Neal’s memory being forgotten for so long, there are other reasons.

``That sacrifice is often forgotten,″ he said. ``There is a high turnover in law enforcement. There has always been. His death, although significant and violent, had just been let to fall away from the collective Texas memory. It was not forgotten but taken to the grave.″

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