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Charles L. Gittens was an American Secret Service agent. He joined the Secret Service in 1956, becoming the agency's first African American agent. An Army veteran, Gittens began his career at the agency's office in Charlotte, North Carolina
. However, he was soon posted to its New York
field office, where he was part of an elite “special detail” that targeted counterfeiters and other criminals across the country.
Gittens was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts
, on August 31, 1928, one of seven children. His father, a contractor, immigrated to the United States from Barbados
. Gittens enlisted in the United States Army before finishing high school. He was promoted to lieutenant in the Army and was stationed in Japan
during the Korean War
. Gittens earned his GED while serving in the Army. After his discharge, Gittens earned a bachelor's degree from present-day North Carolina Central University
. He completed the four-year academic program in three years, and graduated magna cum laude
with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and Spanish.
While teaching school in North Carolina, he was encouraged to take the Civil Service examination for Federal law enforcement agents. After passing the exam, he was recruited into the United States Secret Service. His career assignments included North Carolina, New York, Puerto Rico
, and Washington, D.C.
His first marriage was to Ruth Hamme; the marriage ended in divorce after 28 years. His 10-year marriage to Maureen Petersen also ended in divorce. Survivors include a daughter from his first marriage (Sharon Quick of Washington, D.C.), and two stepdaughters.
Gittens spoke Spanish fluently and was assigned to Puerto Rico from 1968 to 1970 as the island's senior agent. In 1969 he accompanied New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller on his visit as presidential emissary to Latin America
and the Caribbean
In 1971, Gittens was appointed special agent in charge of the Washington, D.C. field office, a prestigious posting in which he supervised approximately 120 agents. Gittens—a founding member of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives—was also tasked by the Secret Service with helping to boost the recruitment of minority and female agents. After retiring in 1979, he joined the Justice Department’s Nazi-hunting Office of Special Investigations and became deputy director of the criminal division.
Though Gittens never claimed discrimination from other agents or supervisors, he still faced it on the job. While guarding President Lyndon B. Johnson on a trip to Dallas, he and other agents entered a restaurant, and its manager initially refused to serve him because he was black.
Gittens earned respect from other agents by occasionally working the streets. He is credited with tackling a suspect who bolted while Gittens was monitoring a counterfeiting bust. Charles LeRoy Gittens died on July 27, 2013 in an assisted living center in Mitchellville, Maryland
. He was 82.
Jenée Desmond-Harris, “First Black Secret Service Special Agent Dies,” The Root, posted August 10, 2011, 4:15 p.m.; Abraham Bolden, The Echo from Dealey Plaza (New York: Three Rivers Press, 2008); Del Quentin Wilber, “Charles L. Gittens, First Black Secret Service Agent, Dies at 82,” Washington Post, August 10, 2011.