LIMA — Almost 100 years after his death, Lima’s first black police officer finally has a grave marker.
And he has another Lima police officer to thank, Jeff Jacomet, not to mention a local gun collector’s group, a cemetery and a funeral home.
The grave marker for William A. Jackson was set in place at Woodlawn Cemetery to mark the site of Jackson’s grave, which previously was unmarked.
“After 93 years, it’s finally nice to get him a gravestone,” Jacomet said.
And the gravestone was not the run-of-the-mill marker. It’s an elaborate, laser-engraved marker with Jackson’s portrait in uniform, a Lima Police Department badge with No. 1 on it and wording indicating he was the state’s first black officer.
Seeing the grave maker in place is one of the highlights of Jacomet’s career knowing he played a big role in that.
“It’s always going to be a bright spot in my career,” Jacomet said. “In law enforcement, it’s sometimes hard to get gratification out of your job because we always see people at their worst.”
Jackson’s unmarked grave was discovered earlier this year when Jacomet was digging through documents while preparing for the Lima Police Department’s 125th anniversary celebration.
While digging, he discovered Jackson was hired in 1891.
Jackson’s history was intriguing to Jacomet considering the man was born before the Civil War began and lived during a time blacks struggled daily and were even lynched in other cities.
“I know he had to have it tough,” Jacomet said.
Curiosity kept Jacomet digging. At one point, he thought it was possible Jackson may have been the nation’s first black officer. But his search led him to the New York City Police Department, which claims it hired the nation’s first black officer in 1891, the same year Lima hired Jackson.
Jacomet discovered Jackson was hired in late December, making it likely NYPD hired the first black officer but he never found out for sure because the NYPD Museum never returned his call.
During his investigation, Jacomet ended up at Jackson’s grave, or at least searching for it inside Woodlawn Cemetery. After struggling to find it, he discovered there was no marker.
That did not sit well, especially from one cop to another because officers look out for each other, even if they never knew each other.
“I thought this isn’t going to work. He has to have something,” Jacomet said.
Jacomet contacted Tri State Gun Collectors, which donated $400. Woodlawn Cemetery agreed to pay for the base the marker sits on.
Officials at Jones-Clark Funeral Home wanted to take it a step further. They suggested a laser-engraved portrait of Jackson on the marker and offered to pay for it. While that would take longer, Jacomet knew it would be worth it.
“It couldn’t have been better,” he said.
Jacomet also tried to find surviving members of Jackson’s family but had no luck. Still, just getting a grave marker for a long-forgotten officer that honors his service to the city and the history he made was a proud moment for Jacomet. It also will ensure one of his police brothers is never forgotten.
“It’s nice when something really good can happen,” he said.