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Leslie Outerbridge

Fireman Leslie Outerbridge risked his life to save others and risked his job for racial justice. Born December 29, 1936 in Chicago, Outerbridge grew up in the Cabrini Green projects. His father, a former cricket champion from Bermuda, taught him about fair play. Outerbridge was a good student at Jenner School and entered Wells High School early at age twelve. Dropping out at age fifteen, he joined the Air Force in 1953. There, he played on the installations’ basketball, football and baseball teams. After his discharge, Outerbridge drove a taxi, until his father’s friend, Robert Thompson, a black firefighter, “sponsored” him for the Chicago Fire Department (CFD). Outerbridge passed the written exam, but “failed” his first physical. Later, Outerbridge found that his father’s donation of $300 ensured that he “passed” the second time around in 1961. Outerbridge later returned to school, earning a B.S. from Chicago State University in 1981.

In 1968, Outerbridge, along with Jim Winbush and Wesley Thompson and backed by the NAACP, Operation PUSH, and the Chicago Urban League, with inspiration from Father George Clements, Anderson Thompson, and legal assistance from Attorney Kermit Coleman, formed the Afro American Firefighters League (AAFL). The AAFL completed a study in 1973 that detailed the Chicago Fire Department’s record of racial discrimination in hiring and promotional practices. The United States Justice Department filed a lawsuit against the City of Chicago that same year. Mayor Daley signed the court ordered “consent decree” in 1977, which resulted in increasing the number of black firefighters from 125 to 400 by 1979. Now, the number is over 1,000. Forced to fight a relentless paper war with unhappy CFD brass, Outerbridge discovered that paperwork was their weakness. For thirty-seven years he performed his duties and retired in 1995. Outerbridge was also a founder of the International Association of Black Professional Firefighters in 1969.

A talented photographer and part time model, Outerbridge has researched the history of African Americans, the CFD and the great Chicago fires – a history that goes back to 1873 when Willie Watkins was the first black firefighter. Outerbridge lives in Chicago’s West Chesterfield neighborhood with his wife, Annie.

Bibliography:

Outerbridge, Leslie. Memoirs of A Black Fire Fighter: Les Outerbridge, 1961-1995. Self-published, 2002.

Accession Number

A2003.291

Sex

Male

Interview Date

12/9/2003

Last Name

Outerbridge

Maker Category
Marital Status

Married

Organizations
Schools

Wells Community Academy High School

Edward Jenner Elementary Academy of the Arts

Chicago State University

Speakers Bureau

Yes

Speakers Bureau Availability

Any

First Name

Leslie

Birth City, State, Country

Chicago

HM ID

OUT01

Speakers Bureau Honorarium

Yes - 0 - $500

Favorite Season

Fall

State

Illinois

Favorite Vacation Destination

Los Angeles, California

Favorite Quote

In Order To Get The Proper Answer You Have To Ask The Right Question.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Illinois

Birth Date

12/29/1936

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Chicago

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Cabbage, Ham, Potatoes

Short Description

Fire fighter and labor activist Leslie Outerbridge (1936 - ) formed the Afro American Firefighters League (AAFL), which helped the United States Justice Department win an anti-discrimination lawsuit against the City of Chicago. Outerbridge was also a founder of the International Association of Black Professional Firefighters.

Employment

Afro American Firefighters League

Favorite Color

Rust Orange

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Leslie Outerbridge's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Leslie Outerbridge lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Leslie Outerbridge talks about his maternal family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Leslie Outerbridge describes his interests as a child

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Leslie Outerbridge talks about his paternal family background

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Leslie Outerbridge describes his paternal grandmother

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Leslie Outerbridge talks about his childhood interest in sports

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Leslie Outerbridge describes growing up in the Cabrini-Green Homes in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Leslie Outerbridge describes the sights, sounds and smells of his neighborhood on Chicago, Illinois' Near North Side

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Leslie Outerbridge remembers being beaten up over a game of marbles

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Leslie Outerbridge explains how he learned from family discussions and his sisters' homework about history

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Leslie Outerbridge describes how his parents met

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Leslie Outerbridge describes what his father did for a living

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Leslie Outerbridge considers which parent he takes after the most

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Leslie Outerbridge talks about his experience at William H. Wells High School in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Leslie Outerbridge remembers an incident with a girl who had a crush on him

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Leslie Outerbridge remembers dropping out of William H. Wells High School in Chicago, Illinois at age fifteen

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Leslie Outerbridge talks about joining the U.S. Air Force

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Leslie Outerbridge talks about his experience on the U.S. Air Force Base in Youngstown, Ohio

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Leslie Outerbridge remembers singing in the U.S. Air Force and being bailed out of jail by his lieutenant colonel

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Leslie Outerbridge describes meeting his wife at a United Service Organizations dance

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Leslie Outerbridge explains why he left the U.S. Air Force

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Leslie Outerbridge recalls his experiences as a taxi driver in Chicago, Illinois, pt. 1

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Leslie Outerbridge recalls his experiences as a taxi driver in Chicago, Illinois, pt. 2

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Leslie Outerbridge talks about Chicago's first black firefighters and the 1871 Chicago Fire and the 1874 Black Chicago Fire, pt. 1

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Leslie Outerbridge talks about Chicago's first black firefighters and the 1871 Chicago Fire and the 1874 Black Chicago Fire, pt. 2

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Leslie Outerbridge talks about the first black fire company in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Leslie Outerbridge talks about integration within Chicago fire departments in the 1960s

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Leslie Outerbridge describes his experience in the fire academy and being hired by the Chicago Fire Department in 1961

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Leslie Outerbridge talks about experiencing racial discrimination within the Chicago Fire Department

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Leslie Outerbridge talks about being transferred to integrate a white firehouse on the North Side of Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Leslie Outerbridge describes the incident that provoked the Chicago Fire Department to integrate

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Leslie Outerbridge describes the discrimination black firefighters experienced when the firehouses were integrated, pt. 1

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Leslie Outerbridge describes the discrimination black firefighters experienced when the firehouses were integrated, pt. 2

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Leslie Outerbridge talks about the formation of the African American Firefighters League in 1967

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Leslie Outerbridge remembers challenging Chief Harper of the Chicago Fire Department, pt. 1

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Leslie Outerbridge remembers challenging Chief Harper of the Chicago Fire Department, pt. 2

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Leslie Outerbridge remembers experiencing racial tension while playing on the Chicago Fire Department baseball team

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Leslie Outerbridge talks about the formation of the International Association of Black Professional Firefighters (IABPFF) in 1969

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Leslie Outerbridge explains his boycott of the International Association of Black Professional Firefighters, pt. 1

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Leslie Outerbridge describes the Chicago firefighters pre-training program

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Leslie Outerbridge explains his boycott of the International Association of Black Professional Firefighters, pt. 2

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Leslie Outerbridge talks about his election to regional director of the International Association of Black Professional Firefighters

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Leslie Outerbridge petitions to have the International Association of Black Professional Firefighters appear at the national fire conference, pt. 1

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Leslie Outerbridge petitions to have the International Association of Black Professional Firefighters appear at the national fire conference, pt. 2

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Leslie Outerbridge talks about filing an employment discrimination lawsuit against the City of Chicago

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Leslie Outerbridge explains what provoked the 1980 Chicago firefighters strike, pt. 1

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Leslie Outerbridge explains what provoked the 1980 Chicago firefighters strike, pt. 2

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Leslie Outerbridge describes his experience at the firehouse on 40th and Dearborn Streets during the Chicago firefighters strike of 1980

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Leslie Outerbridge describes resigning as president of the African American Firefighters League during the Chicago firefighters strike of 1980

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - Leslie Outerbridge describes the outcome of the Chicago firefighters strike of 1980 and the introduction of Appendix G

Tape: 7 Story: 6 - Leslie Outerbridge considers why he was able to effectively challenge the Chicago Fire Department

Tape: 8 Story: 1 - Leslie Outerbridge describes his hopes and concerns for the African American demographic

Tape: 8 Story: 2 - Leslie Outerbridge considers his legacy

Tape: 8 Story: 3 - Leslie Outerbridge talks about the relationship between Chicago's black communities and firemen

Tape: 8 Story: 4 - Leslie Outerbridge considers what he would have done differently

Tape: 8 Story: 5 - Leslie Outerbridge describes how he would like to be remembered

Tape: 8 Story: 6 - Leslie Outerbridge narrates his photographs

DASession

1$1

DATape

2$6

DAStory

4$1

DATitle
Leslie Outerbridge considers which parent he takes after the most
Leslie Outerbridge talks about the formation of the International Association of Black Professional Firefighters (IABPFF) in 1969
Transcript
Yeah.$$Who do you take after, you think, the most? Is it your mother [Lillie Taylor Outerbridge] or your father [Alexander Outerbridge]?$$Both. My father thought that I took after my mother because I had her attitude. She was, I guess what you could call a prude. I mean, you know, if she were, if she were in Bermuda, she would be the epitome of the social class. She was fashion conscious. She was social graces conscious. She dressed to a T. And, you know, we didn't have a lot of money. So we used to go down to the resale shops with her. And we'd be just as well dressed on Sunday morning as the rich kids. As far as my father is concerned, my activities with the fire department have to be attributed to him because he was involved very deeply with the A.M.E. Laymen Organization [sic, Lay Organization of the African Methodist Episcopal Church], and he was president of the laymen league here. He was the district president. And eventually, he, he published a, a newsletter, an international newsletter for the A.M.E. Church. So, what I've, what I did in the fire department came directly from him. He used to drag me along with him to all of his meetings. They used to meet out at the Bethel [A.M.E. Church] parish house at 45th [Street] and Michigan [Avenue, Chicago, Illinois]. And, oh, I couldn't have been no more than five years old when we started. So I got a sense of how a meeting is run, you know, how debate takes place, the rules of organization and it, it helped me to do what I did in the fire department, both locally and with the national black firemen's organization [International Association of Black Professional Firefighters]. So I became tuned. And all, always blamed, you know, the fact that I made the commitment on him because that's where I got it from.$$Well, it's good to have--(simultaneous)--$$The social commitment.$$--yeah, that exposure to organizational life.$$Right.$$A lot of people don't have any access to that at all.$$Right, right.$Let me ask you about the International Association of Black Professional Firefighters. That, that started in 1969? Were you a part of the development of that?$$Yes.$$Okay.$$Two, two gentlemen, one from New York [City] and one from Philadelphia [Pennsylvania], [David] Dave Floyd from New York City and [Charles] Hendricks from Philadelphia, they undertook a jaunt from one coast--starting on the West Coast, all the way back to the East Coast, stopping in every major city, trying to locate black firefighters, the idea being that black firefighters should be united nationally. They came to Chicago [Illinois], and they found, they found me, and they also found Jim [James] Winbush. We were co-chairmen at the time, but I ended up taking them around the city, kind of showing them, you know, different parts of the city. And we both got invitations to, invitations were given to come to New York for an initial kind of meeting. It was October, 1969, and we met at the Commodore Hotel [later, Grand Hyatt New York, New York City] which is no longer there, about three hundred black firemen from all over the country. You know, man, what a sight? What a venue? And everybody was telling the same story. So the outgrowth of that is, you know, we all have a common problem that needs to be addressed. And the only way--not the only way, but one of the best ways to address it is to become a national organization whereby we can share information and, you know, provide direct assistance where needed. And in the early days, you know, there were time--and I've even, I've even been a part of it myself, where an incident would happen in a particular setting, and, you know, black firefighters would get a convoy going. And they would go up there and address it head up, straight up. Now, that's kind of a primitive way of, you know, addressing the situation. But that was more, that developed more out of the camaraderie and common bond that we held for each other. The one problem that I had early on--oh, let me go back. It started on a Thursday, and it was, the main meeting was on Friday--no, we started on a Friday, which was mostly a social, a day of social interaction. And, oh, that was a glorious experience. I mean it's like--and I talk about it in my memoirs. It gave me the idea of what the slaves felt like when they were finally reunited with their, their loved ones, you know. They had been separated and now they're back together. That's what it felt like to me. That's what I equated it with. So it was a beautiful experience, you know, an entire day, big hospitality suite and as it is with firefighters, they are brothers, okay, because they, they are committed to dying together if need by or of dying for your brother. If, if the situation presents itself, that's what you do. So it was kind of an automatic camaraderie there, connection.