Lloyd DeGraffenreid Sr. was a pioneering Kansas City police officer who became the first African American to obtain the rank of detective sergeant during a period when opportunities for minority officers weren’t plentiful.
DeGraffenreid died on May 26. He was 93. During a career in law enforcement that spanned 30 years, DeGraffenreid worked a number of high profile investigations and assignments. He was the first supervisor of the department’s sex crimes unit and briefly oversaw the Jackson County Detention Center.
Chief Darryl Forte said he and others owe a debt of graditude to DeGraffenreid.
“Sgt. Lloyd DeGraffenreid made great strides for minorities, particularly African Americans, during his long tenure with the Kansas City Police Department,” Forte said. “He broke through a glass ceiling and paved the way for advancement opportunities that were not previously available. Without his efforts, I may not be where I am today.”
DeGraffenreid joined the police department as a patrolman on Sept. 1, 1948. He had moved to the city several years before that and taught in the Kansas City school district. DeGraffenreid applied to become a police officer after he saw a newspaper advertisement that said the department was looking for black applicants, said his wife, Cleo Brown DeGraffenreid.
“The police department was paying a little bit more than teaching, but not that much more,” she said.
DeGraffenreid was born in Chester, S.C., as the youngest of 21 children. After graduating from college, He enlisted in the United States Army and served from 1941 to 1945. He fought in the Philippines and Okinawa, and earned two Bronze Stars, his wife said.
When DeGraffenreid joined the police department, the few African-American officers were permitted only to walk foot patrols. White officers could ride in cars, where they also were assigned to write crime reports.
But DeGraffenreid was quick to prove himself a capable investigator, said Alvin Brooks, a former police officer who was trained by DeGraffenreid in the 1950s.
While with the police department, Brooks said, DeGraffenreid and other African-American officers managed to overcome enormous discrimination.
“Lloyd had a sense of arrogance about himself but you had to have that,” Brooks said. “The conditions (then) forced you be that. You had to stand your ground when you were relegated to just riding the black areas. At the same time, he was bright, smart and someone who challenged the status quo regardless of what it was.”
Brooks said DeGraffenreid was a pioneer in other ways. For example, he was one of a handful of officers who had college degrees. DeGraffenreid graduated in 1941 from Benedict College in South Carolina, with a degree in English. While at Benedict College, DeGraffenreid played football and basketball. He was later inducted into the school’s athletic hall of fame.
DeGraffenreid eventually became a detective and in 1965 earned the rank of sergeant in the vice unit. He was a supervisor in the homicide section for two years.
In 1970, DeGraffenreid was the lead investigator in the shooting death of Leon Jordan, who was a founding member of Freedom Inc., a black political club. Jordan was gunned down outside his tavern early July 15, 1970, and the killing remained unsolved for 41 years.
Police reopened the case in 2010 and identified several men responsible for Jordan’s murder, but they all had already died.
Before his death, DeGraffenreid said he was frustrated about being unable to solve Jordan’s murder.
“He carried that frustration to his grave,” said his wife.
Al Lomax, a former deputy police chief who is now the U.S. Marshal for the Western District, said DeGraffenreid was one of the first officers he sought out when he joined the department. Lomax worked with DeGraffenreid on the Jordan murder and other cases.
“We, as younger officers, referred to him as the old man but one in terms of knowledge and experience,” Lomax said. “He was all of the things you would expect a good supervisor or a good sergeant to be. He was a great person and a great pillar in the community in what he stood for.”