This article originally appeared in Kane County Connects‘ Kane County History series.
From the Black Mariah to the corner office, African Americans have a long history in the Aurora Police Department.
Perhaps the first African American to work for the Aurora Police Department was Alfred C. Lucas, who was born in Kentucky in 1857 and migrated to Aurora in the mid-1880s. Listed in the census as being able to read and write, he married Mary “Emma” Carter in 1886 and by 1890 began a 16-year career as the patrol driver for the police department.
His work was varied – driving a horse-drawn wagon, he was responsible for transporting the sick or injured to their homes or the hospital, transporting the dead to their families or funeral homes, assisting at most arrests and transporting arrestees to jail.
His work was also hectic. In 1903, for instance, he and the Black Mariah, as such vehicles were commonly referred to, made 800 runs at a time when the entire department had just 16 members, including the chief, 12 officers, the night clerk and the jailer.
He was a member of the African Methodist Episcopal Church and died at an early age in 1906. He is buried in the West Aurora Cemetery. An article at the time of his death said, “there is perhaps no other colored citizen of Aurora who is so widely known,” his position as patrol driver having “continuously kept him in the lime light.”
First African American Police Officer
Clinton L. Mayes is generally recognized as the Aurora Police Department’s first African-American officer.
Mayes was born in New Albany, MI, in 1931, and served in the U.S. Marine Corps during the Korean War.
He became an Aurora police officer in 1964. By the 1970s, he was a special agent for the Illinois Bureau of Investigation/State Police, and after retirement, he worked as an armed security officer.
Mayes died in Aurora in 1996, leaving a wife, three children and 12 grandchildren. He is buried in Riverside Cemetery in Aurora.
First African American Police Chief
One hundred five years after Alfred Lucas, driving the Black Mariah, led the way, Aurora had her first African American police chief.
William Powell, who served as chief from 2005 to 2008, grew up on the South Side of Chicago and joined the Aurora police force in 1977.
He rose through the ranks, becoming a sergeant in 1993, then lieutenant in 2000 and finally chief, retiring from that position in 2008.
Today, the deputy chief of police in Aurora is another African American: Keith Cross, who joined the department in 1994. He recently succeeded Keefe Jackson, another African American, who served as deputy chief from 2016 to 2020.