Bryan Police Department's first black officer dies
By MELISSA SULLIVAN
Eagle Staff Writer
A seven-year member of the Bryan Police Department who in the 1950s made history as the department’s first black officer died this week after battling cancer.
Willie Idlebird, who died Sunday at age 87, joined the department in 1951 after a friend encouraged him to sign up, he told The Bryan-College Station Eagle in a February 1996 article.
Idlebird wanted to let young people know they needed to value their lives and stay out of trouble, said Annette Stephney, one of his four daughters.
“He was well respected in the black community, and he tried to be fair with everyone,” said Stephney, a former member of the Bryan City Council. “A lot of young people respected my dad.”
During his time as a patrolman, Stephney said, Idlebird faced several challenges — including dealing with people of the same race who did not understand why one of their own would arrest them.
The hardships he faced almost forced him to give up, she said.
But Idlebird wanted to make a difference in the treatment of blacks and whites, even if that meant staying on the force longer, his daughter said.
“A lot of the things he was able to work through by just talking to that person and letting him know, ‘I have a job to do also,’” Stephney said. “But if you broke the law, you broke the law, and you have to pay for it. He did what he could and what he was allowed to do.”
Idlebird left the department in 1958 to become a carpenter. Since then, Stephney said, she has seen a difference in the community and the department itself.
“I guess just to have one of your people being a police officer made a difference,” she said. “Because at that time we had only white police, and to have a black officer, that was something special, and I think that was the way he felt about it.
“He made a difference in law enforcement here in Bryan that was part of something new, and I am proud to say that he was one of the people to start to integrate the police department.”
Although the community will remember him for his service to the police department, Stephney said she always will cherish her father as a family man.
She said her father worked hard at making sure his seven children received a proper education. He was proud of them, she said, remembering his pride in her when she was elected to the Bryan City Council.
Services for Idlebird are set for 11 a.m. Saturday at Shiloh Baptist Church in Bryan.
The Bryan Police Department will provide an escort for the service, said Officer Walt Melnyk, a spokesman for the department.