Posted in Black History, History, People, Then and Now, West Oakland

Royal E. Towns – Engine Company No. 22

Royal Edward Towns (February 10, 1899–July 23, 1990) was one of the first African American firefighters in Oakland and was instrumental in helping desegregate the fire department.  Towns was born in Oakland in 1899, and when denied union membership in his factory job because of his race, went to work as a railroad porter. 

Royal E. Towns

He joined the OFD in 1927 and was assigned to Engine Company No. 22, a segregated firehouse in West Oakland. The station was located at 3320 Magnolia Street. He helped train many other black applicants to pass the test, and was scoutmaster for a Boy Scout troop that included Sam Golden, who went on to become the first African American fire chief in Oakland.

The exterior of Oakland Fire Department Engine no. 22
3320 Magnolia Street

Three firefighters sitting in Oakland fire truck parked in the driveway of fire Engine no. 22

Royal Towns was the 11th black Oakland fireman when he was hired in 1927.  The 12th wasn’t hired for another 15 years. 

Royal E. Towns and his colleagues with Engine Company No. 22 of the racially segregated Oakland Fire Department. (1943)

In 1971 there were only 35 black firemen.

Towns became the first to be promoted in the OFD. He became a chief operator in 1941 and retired as a lieutenant in 1962.

Royal E. Towns (center) and his colleagues with Engine Company No. 22
of the racially segregated Oakland Fire Department. (1943)

Towns was instrumental in helping desegregate the fire department. He helped train many other black applicants to pass the fire department test.

Royal Towns on the left with Oakland firefighters standing in front of fire engine no. 22 – Circa 1943

Personal Life

Royal Towns was born in Oakland on February 10, 1899, to William Towns and Elizabeth Towns.

Towns married Lucille Dennis May 26, 1920. Together they had three children. The family lived in various locations within Oakland

Royal E. Towns died July 23, 1990, and is buried in Mountain View Cemetery

More Photos

The photos are courtesy of the Royal E. Towns papers, MS 26, African American Museum and Library at Oakland, Oakland Public Library. Oakland, California. Photos at Calisphere

3320 Magnolia Street Oakland – Then and Now
It is no longer a Fire Station

Rolling Hoses in front of Engine No 22

Two firemen attaching hoses to a fire hydrant, firefighters practicing with fire hoses in the park in the background – on Peralta Street

Peralta Street – Then and Now

Firemen holding fire hose in the street next to
Gleason and Company building – Circa 1950s
at the corner of Magnolia and 34th Street

34th and Magnolia – Then and Now

Firemen holding fire hose in the street next to Gleason and Company building
Circa 1950s – 34th and Magnolia

Across from the Gleason Company today

Firemen holding fire hose in the street next to Gleason and Company building
Circa 1950s – 34th and Magnolia

Looking down Magnolia towards 34th St.
Circa 1950s

Looking down Magnolia towards 34th St.
Then and Now

Dog climbing ladder to get an apple in front of Oakland Fire Department Fire Engine No. 22 – circa the 1950s

Fireman jumping off the ladder in front of Oakland Fire Department fire Engine no. 22

More on Royal E. Towns

The End

Author:

I grew up in the Montclair District of Oakland, CA. I attended Thornhill Elementary School, Montera Junior High, Skyline High School, and spent some time at Merritt College.

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