Minneapolis honors its first Black fire captain with street naming

The new Cheatham Avenue was named in tribute to Captain John Cheatham nearly 100 years after the former slave's outstanding service.

Captain John Cheatham, the first Black man named fire chief in Minneapolis, will have a street named in his honor nearly 100 years after his exemplary service.

The new Cheatham Avenue, which was previously Dight Avenue, runs from 34th Street East to 43rd Street East on the city’s south side, as reported by KSTP.

A Minneapolis street was renamed in honor of Captain John Cheatham (above), the city’s first Black fire chief, nearly 100 years after the former slave’s exemplary service.

Descendants of the legendary fire chief celebrated the honor this past weekend after Thursday’s event. “He was born a slave in Missouri, and our family followed the Mississippi river up to Minnesota,” Alcindor Hollie, a great-great-great-nephew of Cheatham, told 5 Eyewitness News.

Born enslaved in 1855, Cheatham was one of 37 men sworn in on March 13, 1888, according to Friends of the Cemetery, a Minneapolis history website. He was in service as a firefighter at Fire Station 24 for all of his career, where he was sworn in as chief in 1899. He retired in 1911.

According to the site, Cheatham faced adversity late in his career when a petition circulated that he and two other Black men be replaced by whites “on principle” after they were entrusted to lead another fire station. However, Cheatham’s long and excellent service record, and theirs, stopped those efforts via a second petition — this one supportive.

“We owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to Captain John Cheatham and his fellow Black firefighters, who so courageously stepped up to serve and protect the residents of our community, despite the unending racism and oppression they faced,” City Council member Andrew Johnson told KARE 11. “Seeing John Cheatham’s name raised high serves not just as a reminder of his legacy, but also his example, which is one for all of us to follow.”

Johnson worked with community members to complete the application to honor Cheatham, and their results were nothing short of inspiring. As Keith Edmond, a current Minneapolis firefighter, told KSTP: “We have so many adversities facing us still, but he had even more at that time. So, for him to accomplish what he accomplished, it just inspired me to know that I can accomplish whatever I set out to do.”

“I think that it’s time that we start to uncover some of the accomplishments that African-Americans have done in the city,” Edmond added, “and how it contributes to the city that it is now.”

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