Lloyd Sealy Library: An Appreciation
Text by Dr. Gerald Markowitz
Lloyd George Sealy represented the best of what John Jay College has sought to achieve in its brief history. He was a police professional who was also a scholar. He firmly believed that society depends on law and order, but he also recognized that law and governance require social justice. As a member of the New York City Police Department and as a Professor at John Jay, Lloyd Sealy was a pioneer who blazed many paths and achieved great recognition in his life, but he always downplayed his own success, understanding that the group, and society as a whole, as well as the individual had to advance if America was to fulfill its historic destiny.
A photograph of Sealy captures the essence of the person for whom John Jay's library is named. The photograph shows Sealy on a crowded street in full police captain's uniform with traffic going by in the background, bending over, a gentle smile on his face, to listen to a little girl. Long before "community policing" had become a catchword and a program, Lloyd Sealy understood that for a police officer to be effective, he or she had to be able to communicate with people and especially, be able to hear what people's concerns and problems were. For beyond his many accomplishments, Sealy was first and foremost a conciliator who had the ability to listen to colleagues and citizens alike.
On January 4, 1985, on his 68th birthday, Lloyd Sealy spent the day in the John Jay Library preparing his classes and helping students to learn how to use the law reference books. At the end of the day, he suffered a fatal heart attack, and the entire College mourned his passing. President Gerald Lynch summed up Sealy's contribution to the College. President Lynch noted that Sealy's ability to integrate "theory and practice permitted him to enrich the curriculum and further challenge the minds of his students. He was the model for all of his students with the knowledge and grace that are the hallmark of a superior teacher." (1) Sealy's influence extended beyond the Police Department and the College to the general community. As one of his colleagues, Henry DeGeneste, recalled, "Lloyd was a superb example of a person committed to giving of himself to youth, his community, community-based organizations, and schools. [He said,] if we would all volunteer one hour a week to give something positive to our communities, especially our young people, the world would be a much kinder, happier place." (2)
Lloyd George Sealy was born in Manhattan in 1917 and grew up in the Prospect Heights Section of Brooklyn. His parents were natives of Barbados, and his father worked as the janitor of an apartment building. After completing Thomas Jefferson High School, Lloyd became a police officer in November 1942, and, while working full time, he earned his bachelor's degree in sociology from Brooklyn College in 1946 and then his law degree from Brooklyn Law School in 1952.
When Sealy joined the police department in the early 1940s, New York City and the nation were very different places from what they are today. In the early 1940's, America was battling in World War Two to defeat fascism and Nazism. One of the great ironies of that war was that it was fighting for freedom and democracy with a segregated armed forces. In those days, schools, public accommodations, restaurants, swimming pools, public transportation, and virtually every other aspect of public life were segregated by law throughout the South and the border states. In the North and West, African-Americans and whites remained separated in different schools, distinct neighborhoods, and segregated jobs by both custom and intimidation. The national pastime, baseball (and every other professional sport) banned African- American athletes from competing. Not until 1947 would Jackie Robinson break the color barrier in sports.
The police force that Sealy joined was integrated, but only nominally. No more that one or two African- American officers a year were appointed during the 1930s and 1940s, and it was rare for them to be promoted to the rank of sergeant. In 1942, Sealy was one of 20 African-American officers in their class, the largest number in a class till that time. 1942 was also the first year that Black officers were assigned to the Bronx and Washington Heights rather than just to precincts in Harlem and in Bedford Stuyvesant. Not deterred by meager opportunities for Black officers Sealy took the exams and was promoted to sergeant in 1951 and to lieutenant in 1959.
In the summer of 1964, at the same time that three civil rights workers, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner, were slain in Mississippi, Harlem exploded in riot and rage over the killing of a junior high school student by police in East Harlem. One of the major complaints of the residents and community leaders was that white police officers used excessive force in their interactions with Black citizens and in general harassed and demeaned members of the community. Civil rights groups in New York demanded that these charges be investigated. In partial response to these demands, Police Commissioner Michael J. Murphy, who had just been appointed Acting President of John Jay College upon its founding that summer, appointed Sealy to command the 28th precinct, and he became the first African-American to command a precinct in Harlem. Sealy, who had been promoted to the rank of captain in 1962, was only the second Black to command a precinct. The New York Times reported that, when Sealy arrived at the precinct to take over command, "he was greeted by seven community leaders with smiles, handshakes and high praise." (3) Sealy's promotion was the cumulation of decades of efforts by African-American police officers to overcome the discriminatory treatment they received at the hands of white supervisors in assignment, promotion, and disciplinary procedures.
Sealy saw that his mission in Harlem " and throughout New York City " was to bring people together. At the time he was appointed to command the 28th precinct, he explained that he sought to reduce tensions by helping the Harlem community and the police officers who patrolled it to see each other as individuals not unlike themselves. Sealy recalled that in the aftermath of the Harlem riot, he tried "to explain to the Negro groups the role of the policeman and why he is here." At the same time, he talked with the officers in his precinct, trying to show the police that "this is a community of decent people with the same values and same standards as any other community, people who strongly resent any implication that they don't have these values." (4)
Sealy played a crucial role as conciliator and peacemaker during the tumultuous 1960s. In 1966, he became the first Black Assistant Chief Inspector and the first Black Commander of the Brooklyn North Patrol Service Area, which encompassed 11 Brooklyn precincts. He was, thus, the most prominent and visible African-American police officer in New York. During the mid-1960's, the nation was rocked by a series of rebellions in major cities that were tearing at the fabric of American life. In the words of the Kerner Commission Report, "This is our basic conclusion: Our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white " separate and unequal." (5) John Lindsay, who had been elected mayor in 1965, was committed to social justice and to preventing the kind of mass destruction that had accompanied the disorders in cities across the nation. In highly publicized visits to African- American communities to talk to residents, he frequently had Lloyd Sealy with him, and in fact New York avoided the death and destruction that visited so many other American cities in those years.
Carlton Irish, Sealy's community relations person and aide-de-camp during those years, vividly recalls one incident in Brooklyn where Sealy's presence was crucial in preventing bloodshed:
"There was a disturbance in Brooklyn in which a detective had shot a young Black man on Ralph Avenue and there were street demonstrations with kids throwing Molotov cocktails, throwing bricks off roofs. Lloyd went to Ralph Avenue in full uniform and I was with him to talk to some of the young people to tell them this was not the way to proceed. He started walking up Ralph Avenue and he had no helmet on or anything else and I told him, "you know there are things coming off the roofs " you're going to get killed," and he said, "No, I don't think anything is going to happen " all we have to do is just be calm and you'll see everything will work out." I was frightened to death but I couldn't not walk with him and we walked up the street and lo and behold we didn't get hit and he was just as calm " it was just an incredible display of courage and a kind of belief that these were his people and they were not going to hurt him. It was just incredible. He talked to them and that night things calmed down." (6)
Sealy's courage was not simply in the manner that he dealt with crowds, however. He also recognized the legitimate aspirations of the protestors and acted as a bridge between the people who wanted to change the system and those who had the power to effect that change. In the late Spring of 1969, Sealy was approached by Leo Loughrey, chair of John Jay's Law and Police Science Department and himself a former ranking officer in the New York Police Department, to join the faculty at the College. It is not surprising, but very appropriate, that when Sealy resigned from the Police Department in August 1969, John Lindsay sent him a handwritten letter expressing his "profound" thanks for his "courage," "firmness and decency." In his own summary of his accomplishments, Sealy said that his most important contribution to the Department had been "making some of the men aware of the need to be more sensitive to the needs of the people and their communities." (7)
The Police Department's loss was John Jay's gain. When Sealy joined the College as an Associate Professor of Law and Police Science in the Fall of 1969, he became the first African-American in that Department. The college had opened just four years before, in the Fall of 1965, and Sealy's recruitment to the faculty was a major coup for a young college struggling for an identity and respectability. His colleagues in the Law and Police Science Department recalled that what he liked best about teaching was the contact that he had with the students, interacting with them and "opening their minds." He was particularly proud when students went on to graduate school or law school. (8)
When Sealy came to John Jay, he devoted a good deal of thought and energy to the problem of relations between residents of a community and the police officers who protect it. In The Community and the Police—Conflict or Cooperation? (a book he co-authored), he noted, "Police who continue to see themselves solely as law enforcers will remain at a distance from communities that are evolving a concept of the police that is grounded in the idea of community service." (9) In the book, Sealy asserted that real police work had to include "deep involvement in the community's problems that are due to lack of services, whether from government or from private parties." (10) These problems might include such things as tracking down lost welfare checks, arresting landlords who refuse to provide heat for their tenants, or helping to get a stoplight put on a particularly dangerous corner. Sealy understood long before others that a good police officer had to be part of the community in which he served. As Carlton Irish recalled, Sealy believed that "the police had to be part of the community and had to be perceived as more than a group of outsiders who were coming to regulate and control people in particular communities." (11)
Leo Loughrey, recalled that Sealy also believed that John Jay could serve an important function for the criminal justice system. The college would be a place where people within the criminal justice system, especially minorities, could get the education they needed to achieve leadership positions in the criminal justice system. (12) In addition to providing career opportunities, Carlton Irish remembers that Sealy believed that "education was what minority people and police officers, no matter what their color, needed." (13)
At John Jay, Sealy quickly became one of the most influential and respected Professors. In 1973, he became the director of the Criminal Justice Education component of a $1.5 million Advanced Institutional Development Program grant that sought to improve (and in many cases establish) lines of communication between John Jay and the criminal justice agencies and to conduct research into the most productive curriculum for criminal justice education. In addition, Sealy was the chairperson of the search committee for the Provost and Academic Vice-President and a member of the search committee for the Dean of the City University School of Law at Queens College. Another indication of the respect and admiration that his colleagues held for him was his election as chairperson of the Department of Law, Police Science and Criminal Justice administration three times, guiding the Department through an important period of renewal and growth in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Sealy's role as chairperson was crucial because under his leadership the Department developed both the Criminal Justice and Legal Studies majors, which together account for the vast majority of student majors at the College. In addition, Sealy recognized that the Department had to recruit a larger number of Ph.D's to its faculty to supplement and complement the former practitioners who up to that point formed the core of the faculty of the Department.
William Bracey, a friend and colleague on the police force, recalled that for Sealy joining the faculty of John Jay "was the ultimate." He liked his experiences as a police officer, but "he loved teaching and he loved John Jay." (14) For him, being with young people, in the classroom, in the cafeteria, in the halls was exciting, for they were the future and the hope. His vision, his integrity, his commitment to excellence have been enduring values that have continued to enrich the College over the years.
- Gerald Lynch to Estelle Sealy, 25 May 1988.
- Quoted in Henry DeGeneste, "Lloyd Sealy - Remembrances," Unpublished, 1991.
- "Murphy Appoints a Negro to Head Harlem Precinct," The New York Times, 15 August 1964, p.1.
- "Lloyd Sealy, the First Black Man in Several High Police Posts, Dies," The New York Times, 6 January 1985, p.24.
- United States. Kerner Commission. Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders. (Washington, DC: The Commission, 1968), p.1.
- Interview with Carlton Irish, 24 July 1991.
- Quoted in "Sealy Leaves Police Post for Teaching," The New York Times, 14 September 1969, p.74.
- Interview with Leo Loughrey, 24 July 1991.
- Joseph Fink and Lloyd G. Sealy, The Community and the Police—Conflict or Cooperation? (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1974), p.193.
- Ibid., pp.197-8.
- Interview with Carlton Irish, 24 July 1991.
- Interview with Leo Loughrey, 24 July 1991.
- Interview with Carlton Irish, 24 July 1991.
- Interview with William Bracey, 24 July 1991.
Written for the dedication ceremony of the Lloyd George Sealy Library of John Jay College of Criminal Justice, December 4, 1991 by Dr. Gerald Markowitz with the assistance of Estelle Sealy, Blanche Wiesen Cook, Marilyn Lutzker, T. Kenneth Moran, W. Richelen Henrick Smit, and members of the Library Dedication Committee.
Edited by Peggy Perrin, produced by Matt Ransford.
Lloyd George Sealy Library | John Jay College of Criminal Justice