Relative of Gulfport’s first Black police officer comes forward as city prepares to honor her great-uncle

Relative of Gulfport’s first Black police officer comes forward as city prepares to honor her great-uncle

BILOXI, Miss. (WLOX) - Earlier this week, Gulfport Police Department put out a plea to the public asking for any relatives of one of the city’s first Black police officers to come forward so they could honor him.

Malachi Lee and his partner Zachariah Durr became the department’s first Black officers in 1949.

Zachariah H. Durr was one of two men to serve as Gulfport Police Department's first black officers. Both men were sworn in as officers in 1949.
Zachariah H. Durr was one of two men to serve as Gulfport Police Department's first black officers. Both men were sworn in as officers in 1949. (Source: Family of Zachariah Durr)

Durr’s family was able to provide information about him, and even a photograph of him in his police uniform. However, it wasn’t until Thursday that much was known about Malachi.

Officer Malachi K. Lee, pictured left, and Officer Zachariah Durr, right, were the first two Black police officers in Gulfport when they joined the Gulfport Police Department in 1949.
Officer Malachi K. Lee, pictured left, and Officer Zachariah Durr, right, were the first two Black police officers in Gulfport when they joined the Gulfport Police Department in 1949. (Source: Gulfport Police Dept.)

After watching WLOX’s story Tuesday night, the great-niece of Officer Malachi Lee reached out to police and offered them a photograph of her late uncle.

“Once we saw it on the news, I told my husband, ‘I’m going to call [Chief Leonard Papania] tomorrow and let him know that I have the missing picture of the police officer, Malachi Lee,‘” said Nellie Henry, Malachi’s great-niece.

Nellie Henry was born four years after her great-uncle died but she says older family members never forgot him.

“They always talked about how good of a person he was,” Henry said. “My grandmother and my great aunt - which was his sister, the only sister he had - always talked about him. You know, they talked about how much they missed him.”

Henry said her mother gave her the only known photograph of her Uncle Malachi and she kept it all of these years. Lee died of a heart attack in July of 1950.

“I always kept it. It’s just knowing that he was on the police force, it made me feel good to know that,” Henry said.

Jackson Advocate, 1949 detailing Durr and Lee's first month on the job.
Jackson Advocate, 1949 detailing Durr and Lee's first month on the job. (Source: Gulfport Police)

However, it wasn’t until Tuesday night that Henry discovered her great-uncle was one of the first Black police officers hired at Gulfport and one of only three in the state at the time.

“[It] made me feel real good,” she said. “That’s part of our history, that he made history.”

A plaque commemorating both officer lee and his partner Officer Durr is being prepared and will be placed in the Robert Curry Municipal Complex Memorial Hall.

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