Pioneer black policeman, Roosevelt Bunch, dies at 71

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, May 11, 2004

[5/11/04]Roosevelt Bunch, who broke the race barrier at the Vicksburg Police Department and toughed it out until retirement, died Monday, May 10, 2004, at River Region Medical Center. He was 71.

“You couldn’t have wanted to work with a better person,” said Clyde Harris, also one of the first black men hired. “He was always cheerful.”

Bunch, a veteran of the Korean Conflict, and the late John “Joe” Minor donned police uniforms in 1963, becoming the first black men hired in local law enforcement since the Reconstruction era after the Civil War. Both rose through the ranks of uniformed officers and became detectives. Minor retired as a captain after serving as chief of detectives, and Bunch retired as a detective lieutenant with more than 30 years of service.

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“They couldn’t write a ticket on a white man,” recalled Frank W. Kappler, who retired from the force as a captain. “They had to call one of us.”

But Bunch persisted, was a good officer and did his job, Kappler said.

“You want to know the truth? It was hell,” Harris said, recalling the days when all black officers were assigned to use one patrol vehicle.

“They called us all VP-4′ because we all drove the same car,” he said.

Walter Cole, another black officer who joined the department in 1966, said Bunch and Minor were allowed to drive the old black station wagon.

To cope, the officers formed the Lucky Seven, which Cole described as sort of a fraternal organization of black officers. If one of the members was called to City Hall for some infraction, he would have a spokesman to go with him.

Cole said the military background helped.

“We were used to the rank structure,” he said. “We knew what we had to do and we did it,” he said. And remembering his friend, “He was a good officer.”

Lt. Bunch was of the Baptist faith.

He was preceded in death by his parents, Sylvester and Annie Lee Bunch, and is survived by a son, Darrell Bunch of Houston, Texas; a daughter, Cassandra Bunch Moore of Tampa, Fla.; a sister, Willie Lee Booth of New Orleans; and five grandchildren and other relatives including members of the Johnson, Burks and Bunch families.

Arrangements were incomplete with Dillon Chisley Funeral Home in charge.