11 February 2020

Paul Cephas Howell: First SLC Black Detective

Detective Paul Cephas Howell
Who was Salt Lake City’s first Black police officer? 

Most references will name Paul Cephas Howell (1855-1915) but it seems like he is actually the second Black SLC police officer (Although, see note* below about Police Officer vs Detective and why Howell is likely the first Black Detective but not the first Black Police Officer).

R. Bruce Johnson, the first Black police officer in SLC will be my next post.

Paul C. Howell was born in 1855 and spent most of his early days as a farmer in Louisiana after the Civil War. He moved with his wife and children to Salt Lake City in 1889. 

He served on-and-off the Salt Lake City Police Department between 1892 and 1911, attaining the rank of Detective in 1908 (1st image). Howell’s great-grandson Jake Green Jr. also served on the SLC police force beginning in 1968.

Howell was a prominent and respected leader in the Salt Lake Black community. As examples, in 1894 he served as president of the Colored Voters Organization and in 1902 helped establish the Cooperative Commercial and Investment Co., an establishment to buy and sell real estate for people of color in SLC.

Segregation and racism were rampant in SLC and although Howell was well respected and believed to be a man of principle, he was also demeaned for his skin color and tall frame: he was described by the Deseret News as a “Darkey of mastodon proportions” (Deseret News 1892-06-22 p5).

Paul C. Howell died on February 11, 1915 at his home at 138 East 800 South SLC of Bright’s Disease (a kidney disease).

*Note: It is possible (and perhaps very likely) that Paul C. Howell was the first Black Detective on the SLC Police Force.  Although his predecessor, R. Bruce Johnson, was sometimes called a detective in the press I could not definitively find evidence that Johnson was formally promoted to that rank. Whereas, Howell attained the rank of detective in 1908.

Paul C. Howell house at 138 East 800 South SLC. Feb 2020.

Paul C. Howell house at 138 East 800 South SLC. Feb 2020.

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