Charles Atkins, Vicksburg’s first Black fire chief, honored for his service

Published 2:43 pm Friday, February 10, 2023

The Vicksburg Fire Department held a ceremony to honor retired Fire Chief Charles Atkins on Friday at the fire department’s training center on Old Mill Road.

Atkins, who attended the event, was recognized not just for his excellent service to the community, but also for being a trailblazer as the city’s first Black fire chief. Atkins worked at the department beginning in 1984 and was appointed fire chief in 2009, a position he served in until he retired in 2017 after 33 years of service.

Current Fire Chief Derrick Stamps addressed the audience that gathered to celebrate Atkins. Stamps remembered being trained by Atkins when he first joined the service.

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“Chief Atkins, back when I came over to the fire department in June of 2000, you’re talking about somebody that you wanted to look up to, someone that you didn’t want to let down,” he said.

And to Atkins directly, Stamps said, “Thank you. Thank you for being a pioneer and a trailblazer. I stand on your shoulders now. Without Charles Atkins, there’s no Derrick Stamps.”

Vicksburg Alderman Michael Mayfield also attended the ceremony. Mayfield spoke about when he first called Atkins to ask him if he would like to be the fire chief.

“I never said to him one time, the entire time, from the day I talked to him until the day he left the fire department, I never mentioned the word ‘Black’ to him not one single time,” Mayfield said. “And there was a reason for that. Because I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt, that being the first Black fire chief, he was going to have enough pressure on him already. And he didn’t need any pressure coming from me.”

Mayor George Flaggs Jr. also made remarks before presenting Atkins with a plaque honoring his contributions to the city of Vicksburg. Atkins then took the opportunity to speak to the audience that had gathered to honor him.

“First of all, I want to thank my wife, my son, and the grandchildren and all of them,” Atkins said. “Because they were inspirations to me whether I liked it or not.”

His family was also the reason Atkins became a firefighter in the first place.

“When I started out in the fire service, it was because I wanted to have a job so I could take care of my grandmother,” Atkins said. “I wanted to just take care of her because she took care of me so much.”

Atkins also shared some advice for young people who are interested in building a career by serving the community.

“The fire service is a good career step, and at the same time, it helps you develop yourself and your character as far as growing and helping other people,” he said. “Patience is very important. You have to have patience.”