EL CENTRO, Calif. (KYMA, KECY) - Being the “first” makes you a pioneer, a leader, and a game changer; for Albert Newton, the first black firefighter in Imperial County, being the "first" simply meant doing what was necessary.
Newton grew up in El Centro during the segregation era. “There was nothing equal about being separate,” said Newton, who is now retired. He recalls that time as a painful memory but he said in all that pain there were glimpses of joy.
When Newton finished high school he wanted to become a firefighter. It's something he had dreamt of ever since he was a little boy.
Despite being prepared and qualified, Newton said he just was not allowed. “The chief told me there would never be a black fireman in the city of El Centro,” added Newton.
In 1956 Newton was drafted into the Navy hoping that one day he would be able to put on that firefighter uniform.
Ten years later he accomplished that dream but he says it was far from easy. “I wasn’t able to use the bathroom, and I had to come home with the radio and a pickup.”
Newton said not only did he experience discrimination from his department but also departments around Southern California. “I happened to be teaching CPR and some departments didn’t want me to teach it because I would have to teach mouth to mouth, etc,”.
Despite everything Newton persisted and fought for his rights, like being able to use the same bathroom, which he was eventually granted.
Newton retired in 1998, after serving his community for 32 years.