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Black History Month: Taking a look at Catholics serving the community

When something is done for someone else without the intention of getting a reward, it is considered community service. This service is done with a willing heart and is not viewed as a requirement. For the month of February, the diocesan Office of Black Catholic Ministry would like to recognize local Black Catholics who have served their community, selflessly and humbly.

Lt. Robert Boswell

Robert Boswell grew up in Champaign, Illinois where, in 1946, he was confirmed in the Catholic Church. He also attended a private Catholic school, where he was the sole black for six years. Boswell moved to Birmingham in the eighth grade, going on to receive his Bachelor of Science from the University of Alabama-Birmingham, a master’s degree, and then a juris doctor degree from Birmingham School of Law. Boswell would go on to achieve the rank of Lieutenant within the City of Birmingham Police Department.

Boswell was the third of the first four black police officers to integrate Birmingham’s police force under Bull Connor. His trail blazing not only resulted in attempts on his life by the Ku Klux Klan but also a bond with Former Attorney General Robert Kennedy, a meeting with Former President Bill Clinton, and the opportunity to serve alongside several civil rights pioneers such as A.G. Gaston, Dr. W.C. Patton, Dr., Arthur Shores, and the first black Mayor of Birmingham Richard Arrington. His participation during the Civil Rights movements was featured in the Birmingham Foot Soldiers: Voices from the Civil Rights Movements, Behind the Magic Curtain: Secrets, Spies, and Unsung White Allies of the Civil Rights Movement, and Birmingham First Black in Blue.

Over 40 years ago, he became the director of the Birmingham Police Athletic Team, which was established by Operation New Birmingham. The program assisted minority athletics. During his tenure as director, he demanded high academic standards, earning him recognition by then Senator Joe Biden. Through his coaching he nurtured several legendary professional athletes such as Bo Jackson, Charles Barkley, Buck Johnson, Ennis Whatley, and Robert Horry. The program, under his direction, received commendation from Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant and Coach Gene Bartow.

In 1983, Boswell was honored by Ronald Reagan with a Volunteer Action Award. His life of service was recognized that same year by Alabama Lt. Governor Bill Baxley, the State House, and the State Senate when “Robert H. Boswell Day” was declared and signed by Governor George C. Wallace.

From being appointed to the State Recreational Board by Governor George C. Wallace, to becoming the first black co-chair for the Martin Luther King Unity Prayer Breakfast in Birmingham, to being honored by the city of Baton Rouge as an honorary council member, to being inducted into the National Hall of Fame for the Amateur Athletic Union, to being awarded the NAACP’s Freedom Fund Award, Boswell has undoubtedly lived a life dedicated to service.