How the US Military Proves FDNY Wrong

“A Social Experiment”

Harry S. Truman

President Harry Truman’s grandparents owned slaves and historians have said that he was raised and conditioned to be a racist.  Yet, just 100 days before the 1948 elections and despite 82% of Americans disagreeing with his position, he issued Executive Orders 9980 and 9981 ordering the racial integration of the US military.

But, it wasn’t easy.  The top ranks of the armed forces were filled with blatantly racist officers.  Scott Foster reports that Omar Bradley, the “GI’s general” remarked that the Army was “no place for social experiments.”  Ken Hechler, who worked for Truman said that the president brought Bradley in and talked to him in “good old Missouri English” and the general saw the light of day.

Then as now, the military and the fire service share the exact same essential requirement: a high degree of readiness and effectiveness for all forces, especially those on the front line.  Beginning in 1948 and continuing to this very day, the US military maintains combat readiness and effectiveness while creating a professional workforce that represents our country. (25% of the US military are racial minorities and 18% of those are Black.)

Of course, FDNY is the opposite: it remains nearly 97% white and male in a city that is 56% non-white and 52% female.  It is an epic triumph of racism, sexism and failed leadership, both political and departmental.

The blame is shared by the Mayor and his deputies, the Commissioner and his officers, and union leaders.  They all work very diligently to contrive absurd arguments and to prop each other up to protect their cracker barrel on the Hudson.

The US military proved definitively that high standards can be maintained while creating a diverse workforce by actually recruiting qualified candidates.  Recruitment means attracting the candidates you seek and then rewarding them for joining your team with whatever combination of incentives that are affordable and effective.

Not so in the FDNY. “Recruiting”  in the FDNY means convincing minorities to show up and take a written exam that they will be ill-prepared to do well on, especially in comparison to the fourth and fifth generation white male “FDNY descendants” they are sitting next to.  FDNY is an elite white male palace guard with the moat full and the drawbridge up.  They can afford to say, “Let them eat cake”, at least for now.

About his decision and his resolve, it is said that Truman penned in his diary, “How far would Moses have gone if he had taken a poll in Egypt?”  Truman was surely a “firefighter’s president.”  He lacked a college education yet was both smart and well read.  He was plain spoken, hard working and honest.  He was also brave and not afraid to stake his reputation and future on what he thought was right.  And it turns out he was right.

General Ridgway

General Matthew Ridgway, commander of the 82nd Airborne during WWII and leader of the 8th Army during the Korean War voluntarily  requested that his units be integrated in Korea.  Of Ridgway, President Ronald Reagan said, “Heroes come when they’re needed, great men step forward when courage is in short supply.”

FDNY needs a few great men.



  • Mike says:

    Eric, great piece. As always, I love your historical references. All those books you read on presidents, military greats combined with your passion for unions and firefighters comes to bear on this issue. Your analogy/illusion: “cracker-barrel on the Hudson” is devastating.

  • Jim says:

    Was the ‘cracker barrel on the Hudson’ crack really necessary. Making that kind of remark while speaking against racism seems contradictory.

  • Jim says:

    Was the ‘cracker barrel on the Hudson’ crack really necessary? Making that kind of remark while speaking against racism seems contradictory.

    • Eric Lamar says:

      A contemporary pejorative definition of “cracker” could be an ignorant, racist, rascal. Comparing it to the N-word is silly. The etymology of “cracker” has always been to describe whites who were lording it over blacks, as far back as the 1760s. Crackers were (and are) in the position of power. They “crack” the whip; they occupy the dominant position; they rule the roost. Complaining about being called out because you are a proud and preening “lord of the manor” is thin-skinned, almost namby-pamby.

      FDNY is controlled by ignorant, racist, rascals who are lording it over blacks and others and “cracker” is the perfect descriptor.

  • Smitty says:

    This is a fabulous post, and gets to the heart of all “isms.” Change of this type does not occur naturally. It requires individuals to recognize an injustice and to codify justice itself. That’s why we actually write laws and have executive orders to force change.

    Women vote because they protested and a constitutional amendment gave them the right to vote. You are correct to lay this entrenched discrimination at the feet of the fire commissioner and the mayor. If the commissioner won’t enact and enforce change of his own volition, the mayor should step in and order an end to these practices. If they don’t do it, the city council or state legislature should.

    As always, you have laid out the case beautifully. Thank you.

  • Guy says:

    St louis is trying to get back to the point of achieving those similar numbers and turn back the hands of time. It’s a shame that the same play book is being used al over this nation but many that have power sit back and allow this to happen. Thank you for brining a definitive argument to the for front with historical refrences and facts as well as setting setting those straight that seemingly attempt to defer this dIalog by trying to reverse the issue and focus on a smoke screen to put you on your heals. Great job!!!!!

  • Roland Sprewell says:

    Eric! Can you hear my applause!! One the finest pieces of prose on this subject I think I’ve read. I too am a writer and this is the first time I’ve been “treated” to one of your eloquent and well framed Op-eds. Keep them coming my brother…keep them coming!

  • Bill Hand says:

    Great observation Eric…sometimes the truth hurts.
    It is too bad that we don’t have someone like Truman running for President today. It seems like we are down to “picking the best of the worst” with most politicians today. Never in my lifetime (including Vietnam) have I ever seen our nation so divided. Maybe I was just not paying attention back in the day…..

  • Dennis says:

    I find your use of cracker, and your defense of the use interesting. While you may have an excellent grasp of history, you forget two important considerations. First, words hurt. It does not matter that you do not believe the word “cracker” is not on the same level as the n-word. It matters to the person you called a cracker. Also, Merriam Websters Online provides this definition of cracker. usually disparaging: a poor usually southern white. And here is the acid test. We are working in the same house and you call me a cracker? A quick trip to EEO would gurantee you at least a couple of days of sensitivity training. And I would report you in a second. To use a pergorative and make the determination a class of people will not be offended, demonstrates arrogance to the extreme.

    • Eric Lamar says:


      I explained my meaning and use of the term and I stand by it. I am not beholden to your choice of dictionary. It’s quite telling that you could read the entire post and find only that to comment about. What about the FACTS? You are so concerned about my use of “cracker”. Does your outrage stop right there? What about the treatment of minorities and minority applicants? Do you suddenly calm right down? By the way, “arrogance” is ignoring a 97% white fire department in a city that is majority non-white and female.


  • Dennis says:


    Ok, I am sorry that I did not get down on my knees and kiss your sorry cracker ass for such a great essay about inequities in racial diversity in FDNY. I get it. Is it wrong, yes. Should it be remedied, yes. Did you write a very good piece using the analogy of intergration in the US Military? Check. But don;t lecture me on affirmative action. Been there, done that. Remember the DOJ Consent Decree? Remember the Rule of Nines. I can honestly say I gave at the office on this issue because I lost almost a year of seniority (which translates to a smaller retirement check each month). Where is my effing Starbucks Gift Card ya deadbeat. 🙂


    • Eric Lamar says:


      That’s much better.

      Of course I’m a cracker–of the West Virginia white trash variety. That’s why I can spot FDNY’s bullshit from a country mile.

      You are the LIKELY winner on the cats but the contest is still open.

      Bye bye for now.

  • Jim says:

    Eric, you can make all the rationalizations you want, but it’s hypocritical to write a column decrying racism and then use a racial epitaph against those you disagree with.

    Explaining what you mean by ‘cracker’ reminds me of racists that would say that the ‘n-word’ wasn’t bad in the context that they used it because that whites could be called that as well.

    It’s a racial slur, plain and simple. You should just admit a poor choice of words and move on.

  • Jim says:

    And how did you arrive at the conclusion that I’m a ‘proud and preening lord of the manor’? Do you know anything about me or are you just applying a biased stereotype?

  • Eric Lamar says:

    Sorry to disappoint, but its not literally about you. The “you” I refer to are those engaging in racist tactics the effect of which is to segregate and deny employment.

    And, what about the FACTS? You are so concerned about my use of “cracker”. Does your outrage stop right there? What about the treatment of minorities and minority applicants? Do you suddenly calm right down?

    Perhaps, you have been cast in the role of the “corrector” to set me straight.

  • Jim says:

    Sorry, but if the entree of considering your arguments is my acceptance of your use of racial slurs, I’ll pass. It seems you’re not so much opposed to racism as wanting to choose to whom to direct it.

    I always thought of you as a blue-collar intellectual, but one of the characteristically of men who work with their hands, as opposed to abstract academics, is that they recognize errors and correct their course.

  • Dennis says:

    Well said Jim, but I have known Eric for 30 years, he is as stubborn as a West Virginia Mule and is not want to admit a mistake, at least that has been my experience. And Eric if I win the DC Cats contest, please purchase the Starbucks gift card and give it to someone on the street who needs it more than I do.

  • Jim says:

    I enjoyed working with him on Katrina relief for the IAFF. He insisted on sleeping in a pup tent outside instead of the air conditioned dormitory we’d set up. During that time I never once heard him call anyone cracker, or namby pamby. Age, I guess.

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