Retired Black Cops Fight Pension Law

Now 81 years old, with bad knees and bad memories, Howard Baugh remembers just how difficult it was being a black cop in Atlanta in 1953. "Hell! It was holy hell," he tells CBS News correspondent Byron Pitts.

74-year-old James Booker, a retired College Park police captain, says his badge was a burden. He couldn't use the restroom in the station, couldn't answer the telephone and couldn't arrest white women. The list was long and humiliating for any black cop in Georgia in the South during segregation.

However, black cops, like all citizens, were entitled to a pension plan. So when Georgia started a supplemental plan for police officers in 1951, James Booker signed up.

"When it came to race I put a 'C' down. During the '60s if you can think back we were known as colored. So I entered a 'C' for colored not spelling it out. Apparently they took the 'C' for Caucasian, which allowed me in," Booker says.

But it wasn't long before Booker and all the other "colored" cops who'd signed up were informed that the retirement fund was for whites only. The policy did eventually change in 1976, when the pension plan opened to all.

Now, 30 years later, the Georgia legislature is finally going to compensate those black officers for the decades of benefits lost. But despite the apparent good will, this proposed legislation only covers black police officers nearing retirement. Current retirees like Howard Baugh and James Booker will receive no compensation.

Georgia's governor refused a CBS News request for an interview.

Representative Tyron Brook, who co-wrote the legislation, says change takes time. But the reality is some of the retirees won't live to see those changes. It is estimated that there are only a few hundred retirees still alive and eligible. And it could cost the state nearly $42 million to pay them their back pensions.

Lawmakers like Rep. Ben Bridges say that's not the state's problem. "You are trying to make it in 2006 a black/white issue and I don't want to make it that," he tells Pitts. "We're making it a right and wrong issue in 2006 and moving forward."

Still, Howard Baugh believes he'll get what's owed him: $710 a month for 27 years of service. His longtime friend Martin Luther King always preached: "No lie can live forever."

"That's the terror of it," says Baugh. "It's still going on. We gonna make it though, someday."

James Booker is not so sure. "Born colored, still colored. Colored as we speak," he says. And he's still working — even today — as a crossing guard to help make ends meet.
  • Jessica Goldman

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