Charles L. Gittens, the first African American to serve as a Secret Service agent, died late last month, the Associated Press reports. He was 82 years old. Gittens joined the service in 1956 and in 1971 was promoted to lead the Washington bureau, the second-most-important Secret Service office in the United States.
As the special agent in charge of field operations in the city, he was a key part of the personal security detail surrounding Gerald Ford.
He then spent 10 years working in New York, where, in addition to providing protection, he was charged with investigating cases involving counterfeit currency and forged federal government checks and bonds.
Gittens spoke Spanish fluently and was moved to Puerto Rico as the island’s senior agent. In 1969 he accompanied Gov. Nelson Rockefeller of New York on his visit as presidential emissary to Latin America and the Caribbean republics.
Once appointed to Washington, Gittens led a staff of 100 and encouraged the enlistment of black agents, visiting universities with recruiting teams. At the time, only 37 of the Secret Service’s 1,200 agents were black.
By his retirement in 1979, Gittens had become deputy assistant director of the Office of Inspection, overseeing all the Secret Service field offices. Subsequently he worked for the Department of Justice, where, as deputy director of the Office of Special Investigations, he helped hunt down war criminals living in the United States.
When asked about the chances of being shot as a Secret Service agent, Gittens said he was “a hell of a lot safer being a Secret Service man that I would be driving cabs in either New York or Chicago.”
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