A museum in Washington D.C. hopes to strengthen relations by highlighting the history of law enforcement and having open dialogues about its future.

This badge, these sunglasses, and this name plate belonged to a pioneer in law enforcement and civil rights. Lucius Amerson was the first African American sheriff elected in the deep south since reconstruction.

“Before that a largely African American population in Macon County was not able to vote for their sheriff,” says Rebecca Looney, Senior Director of Exhibits and Programs.

Rebecca Looney is director of Exhibits and Programs at the National Law Enforcement Museum. She says Amerson was an army veteran who became sheriff of Macon County, AL, in the late 1960’s following the passage of the Voting Rights Act. She says many saw his election as a sign of progress for Black Americans fighting for equality and against police brutality.

“It’s a big step forward. We say law enforcement needs to reflect our communities,” says Looney.

Sheriff Amerson’s story represents a defining moment in law enforcement history. Today police departments nationwide acknowledge that recruiting and maintaining a diverse force is still a challenge. Recent headlines have focused on the Black Lives Matter movement and the lack of trust between police and the public. Craig Floyd, CEO of the National Law Enforcement Memorial Fund, says he hopes the museum can play a part in easing those tensions.

“We are going to have thoughtful, important conversations between the public and law enforcement,” says Craig Floyd.

The museum hopes sharing the stories of Sheriff Lucius Amerson, as well as the stories of men and women of all races who have given their lives in the line of duty will help visitors better understand the vital role diversity plays in keeping our communities safe.

Hidden History, a celebration of Black History, is sponsored by Missouri Southern State University.