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Tuesday, Oct. 21, 2014

Black History Month

Thursday, February 13, 2003

Woman follows in footsteps of her relatives

SIKESTON -- Roryleen Howard-Knox recalled the advice from her father, Ed Howard, who was the first black police officer in Sikeston.

"He said, 'It's not about trying to get even. Always remember there aren't enough bullets to kill all the fools in the world," Howard-Knox said. "He told us we shouldn't handle the movement with violence, but with education."

Howard-Knox is often reminded of the advice her father gave to herself and her 12 siblings -- not just during Black History Month, but every day of her life. Her father's words of wisdom are passed from generation to generation.

The Howards moved to Sikeston in 1929 after Howard had served as the first black guard at the state penitentiary in Jefferson City.

"It was about the early 1930s when he began working as a police officer in Sikeston," Howard-Knox said.

Howard-Knox was young when her father was a police officer, but she remembers he was able to carry a gun and he also wore a uniform.

Seventy years later Lorya Knox, Howard's granddaughter and Howard-Knox's daughter, is falling in his footsteps, serving the Sikeston community as a public safety officer. Knox has worked for the Sikeston Department of Public Safety over the past three years and as a DPS school resource officer for Sikeston Public Schools the last year and a half.

But Knox didn't always intend on working in law enforcement. "I was a single, divorced mom and I needed a job. So I decided to choose a career rather than another job," Knox explained.

Knox said she knows her grandfather was well-respected throughout the community and a tough individual, but it's difficult for her to remember him since she was about 10 years old when he died.

"Even if she doesn't realize it, Lorya was influenced by my father," Howard-Knox insisted about her daughter. "Because all of my brothers and sisters and I taught our children the same principles our father taught us."

As a school resource officer, students are able to view Knox as a positive in their lives since police officers are often associated with negative situations.

"I make sure I talk to all the students. I want them to be more comfortable with me so they know they can come to me when serious issues arise," Knox said.

Knox checks in at DPS before she goes to work at school and then again after school is over to type reports, check e-mail or report to street officers anything that's going on.

Policing has changed quite a bit over the years since Knox's grandfather was a police officer.

"I think at that time, it was, 'You be in this jurisdiction -- on your side of town and stay in your area,'" Knox said. "I think they chose police officers with a lot of influence and who people would listen to. Now it's changed. Officers are certified in all parts of Sikeston. I can go to the north, south, east or west side of town."

Howard's grandson, the late Willie Joe Harrington, was also a police officer in Sikeston in the 1970s.

"I think Lorya should take off her hat to my father and the other people who paved the way for black people in this community," Howard-Knox noted.

Howard-Knox said her father was not a passive man, and she sees a lot of that in her daughter, she said.

"She's got the 'get up and go' attitude like he had. I think she's unconsciously been influenced to do more for her community."

The Sikeston community has come a long way since the beginning of integration, Howard-Knox said.

"It was so very segregated back then. When the schools were integrated, my father told us not to go in and sit in the corner. He always felt there was a need for people to associate with one another no matter what race they were," Howard-Knox explained.

Today people of all races can eat in the same sections of restaurants, shop at the same stores, sit in the same seats a movie theater, work in the same profession, and they can even choose whether to sit in the front or back seat of a car, Howard-Knox pointed out. Children can also attend the same schools.

And who can forget voting?

"My father always insisted on the importance of voting because voting was something that led to his freedom," Howard-Knox noted. "And my family has always voted because of that. Even Lorya's daughter, who's a senior in high school, voted for the first time last week."

It's true a lot has changed over the years, and Howard-Knox isn't sure how her father would react to the harmonized community today.

"Maybe he'd be surprised," Howard-Knox said. "but I really think he knew it could happen."