Many of the places former Fort Lauderdale Police Chief Frank Adderley visited throughout his life, his parents were banned from entering entirely.
One of them was the ocean.
Adderley’s mother was eight months pregnant with him on July 4, 1961, the first day of the wade-in protests that led to the desegregation of Fort Lauderdale’s beaches. His relatives, neighbors and friends joined the protesters who gathered on the bus, rode to A1A, and stood on the all-white beach at Las Olas Boulevard as police officers threatened them with arrest.
In 2008, Adderley took charge of that same police department, becoming Fort Lauderdale’s first Black police chief. He now serves as the West Palm Beach Chief of Police.
On Saturday afternoon, Adderley was honored with a place on Fort Lauderdale’s “Walk of Fame,” which sits along A1A, by the same beach that his friends and family helped desegregate, alongside Eula Johnson, co-leader of the wade-in protests.
“It kind of caught me off guard to be honest with you,” Adderley told the South Florida Sun Sentinel. “I really was not expecting this.”
Johnson, who died in 2001, was known as the “Rosa Parks of Fort Lauderdale,” the first female president of the Fort Lauderdale NAACP and a well-known activist in the civil rights movement. In addition to leading the wade-in protests, she also led protests to desegregate Fort Lauderdale’s restaurants and schools.
“For me to be recognized and have a place on the walk of fame near Eula Johnson is just…I mean, I don’t even know what words describe that, that’s huge,” Adderley said. “I mean, this lady fought for equality in our city. No doubt, if it wasn’t for Eula Johnson, there would be no Frank Adderley.”
Saturday’s induction ceremony was one of many festivities underway at the Fort Lauderdale Great American Beach Party. The other honorees were C.A. “Chuck” Black, who named the U.S.S Fort Lauderdale, Michael Egan, founder of Alamo Rent a Car, and Shane Strum, President and C.E.O. of Broward Health.
In a speech Saturday, Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis said Adderley “has been a strong proponent of the community policing philosophy, emphasizing the need to treat every individual with dignity and respect.”
Current Broward NAACP president Marsha Ellison accepted the award on behalf of Johnson.
Johnson was “threatened simply by saying Black folk could be law enforcement, firefighters, and schoolteachers,” Ellison said in a speech Saturday. “…She knew we needed Frank Adderley as chief of Fort Lauderdale, she knew we needed Cecil Stone, president of the Fort Lauderdale Black Police Officers Association.”
Adderley joined the Fort Lauderdale police department in 1980, becoming the first Black officer to reach the rank of major, assistant chief, and, in 2008, police chief. As both a Black man and a police chief, he has had to balance two identities that often conflict.
Growing up, Adderley heard stories of the discrimination his parents suffered under Fort Lauderdale’s Jim Crow laws, which police enforced. But the reality also wasn’t always clear-cut, he said.
His father worked as a janitor on the night shift at what was once the Jolly Roger Hotel. He would walk home at night because the buses weren’t running that late, Adderley said, but in doing so, he broke the law.
“As soon as he touched A1A he was in violation of a city ordinance because Blacks weren’t allowed east of the railroad tracks after dark,” Adderley said.
Fort Lauderdale police officers would stop him, but instead of taking him to jail, they would give him a ride to Sistrunk Boulevard at the railroad tracks, and he would walk home from there, Adderley said.
“They could have easily said, ‘Okay, George Adderley’s in violation of city ordinance, Blacks are not able to be on A1A at this hour,’ and they could have arrested him,” Adderley said. “But they didn’t do it. They didn’t do it.”
Adderley himself was acquainted with the job at an early age, growing up in a neighborhood with a lot of police activity. He recalled admiring the well-dressed Bahamian detective Doug Evans, an “icon” in the neighborhood.
“Everyone loved that guy and respected him,” Adderley, who is of Bahamian descent, said. “I grew up seeing him and saying ‘I’d really like to be that guy.’”
Throughout his time in the department, he often witnessed racism that went unchecked, such as when a chaplain refused to marry an interracial couple.
“I didn’t really see where the police administration actually stuck up and said ‘we’re not going to allow this to happen in our agency,’” Adderley said.
As a Black officer, he also had a perspective that many others did not.
“I was a part of the community, and understand the neighborhood and the people and Black culture as a whole,” Adderley said. “I think when you know that you can communicate effectively.”
He went to high school and college with many of the people the department served.
“It didn’t matter which neighborhood you put me in, I had some relationship with everyone,” Adderley said.
When he took charge, he said, he tried to lead the department in a different direction by prioritizing openness and transparency with the Black community.
Still, he wasn’t always popular with them. He recalled how, after he fired four police officers over racist texts in 2015, many Black residents blamed him, while white residents praised him.
“I had the Black community thinking it was all my fault, they wanted to give me vote of no confidence, while the white community stood behind me and supported everything that we did,” Adderley said.
Though much work remains to be done when it comes to repairing relationships between the Black community and law enforcement, Adderley thinks the most important approach is simply getting to know people. When he became West Palm Beach Police Chief in 2019, he didn’t know anyone, so he began giving out his cell phone number to people in the community. He estimates that he now has thousands of residents’ numbers in his phone.
“I think it’s our duty to realize what our main goal is, and that’s to serve the public,” Adderley said. “And if we serve the people and do our jobs, be fair, be open with them, I think it gets better down the road.”
Adderley’s parents never got to see him promoted to Fort Lauderdale Police Chief. His father died in the 90’s, and his mother died in 2007, a year before he was appointed.
He knows they would be proud of him.
“You have to realize now I’m the first Black police chief in the City of Fort Lauderdale at a time when they knew the police weren’t really the friends of the Black community, and they were really limited as to where they could go in that city and the times in which they could travel, because they were Black,” Adderley said. “For me to not only just join the police department but to elevate to the top position within? That would’ve been an amazing experience for them.”
He did have the chance to make his family proud in other ways, such as when he won an invitation to a Sunday brunch at the fancy, private Coral Ridge Country Club.
When Adderley’s mother worked as a maid in the hotels along the beach, Black people were not allowed to walk past the club, let alone step inside, he said.
He took his mother to brunch with him.
She was nervous and uncomfortable, Adderley said, worried about how she would be treated. But everyone was friendly; many of them knew Adderley because he was assistant police chief at the time.
“I think she began to relax,” he said, “and I’ll never forget her telling my son and I, she never thought, never thought that day would come. That she could sit down here at Coral Ridge and eat Sunday brunch.”