Calvin Burris, one of two black deputies who first integrated the York County Sheriff’s Office in 1968, died Sunday. He was 76.
In those early days of integration, Burris and William “Snoop” White had to deal with a public that was not used to black policemen, White said Tuesday, as well as fellow deputies who had never worked with black officers before.
But the courage and perseverance of Burris, and White, demonstrated that the officers were capable and fair and led to full integration of the police over the next decade.
“It was rough the first couple of years,” White said. “We really had to depend on each other. Calvin Burris was a fine officer, a great man and a great friend. He cared about the people he worked with, and the community he served.”
Burris was close friends with Bill Singleton, one of the first black officers at the Rock Hill Police Department. Singleton had urged Burris to apply to the sheriff’s office in 1968, just before he was shot and killed trying to protect a woman from an armed man during a domestic struggle.
“When Mr. Singleton was killed, it really shook my father up,” said Gregory Burris, one of Calvin Burris’ five sons. “But he was determined to be a good officer who helped out people. He really believed in what they say, protect and serve.
“All my life, people would come up to me and say how my father was firm but fair, that he gave people a fair shake. So many people said he was a good officer.”
Burris worked as a sheriff’s deputy through 1975, when he was hired by the Fort Mill Police Department as that agency’s first black officer. He later worked in the enforcement division at Duke Power before retiring in 2000. Burris then returned to wearing a badge, serving as a court constable at the Moss Justice Center in York until 2010.
York County Sheriff Bruce Bryant, who was hired as a deputy in 1973, worked with Burris for a couple of years. He recalls how Burris was both liked and respected by all people. Burris was one of the first black graduates of the South Carolina Police Academy, now the S.C. Criminal Justice Academy, Bryant said.
“Calvin Burris was a great guy, a gentle man,” the sheriff said, “but he also was someone who had the determination and care for people to get a difficult job done. He will surely be missed by not just the sheriff’s office, but by all in York County who knew him.”
Burris worked many cases as a police officer, but his highest-profile case didn’t even involve a crime.
In the early 1970s, Burriss had been placed in charge of guarding a rock brought back from the moon while it was on display at the Museum of York County.
“My father was so serious about keeping that moon rock safe that, when he finished at the museum, he brought the rock home,” Calvin Burris Jr. said. “The rock stayed in the house with us that night. I don’t remember if my father even slept that night. He wanted to make sure nothing happened.”
Jim Williams of York, who retired late last year after almost 40 years with the sheriff’s office, was the first black deputy to patrol western York County. He said Burris was a dedicated officer who showed many younger officers how to deal with the public and how to defuse difficult emotional situations when police were called to problems.
“Calvin was a good man, a decent man who helped people when he wore the badge,” Williams said. “He paved the way for a lot of us to come after him.”