The mothers of fallen Black firefighters who lost their lives during 9/11 are continuing to speak out about their heroic sons so that the world never forgets their sacrifices.
Twelve Black Fire Department of New York firefighters were among the 343 killed as a result of the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. That includes Irene Smith’s son, 19-year department veteran Leon Smith Jr., however, Smith and FDNY Captain Paul Washington feel that “there have been a number of slights to the memories of the Black firefighters” throughout the years.
“I will keep his name alive,” Smith said. “There are so many people who do not even know there was 12 Black firefighters.”
The 12 Black firefighters, among the 343 who were killed on 9/11, include: Gerard Baptiste, Vernon Cherry, Tarel Coleman, Andrew Fletcher, Keith Glascoe, Ronnie Henderson, William Henry, Karl Joseph, Keithroy Maynard, Shawn Powell, Vernon Richard and Leon Smith, Jr.
On the 10-year-anniversary of the attack, Irene Smith reflected on her son’s loss and said she would never give up hope that she’ll be able to bury his body in his currently empty grave.
“In Leon’s company there were eight firefighters that got killed,” Smith told HuffPost. “They found the remains of six of them. They have never found my son. I have a tombstone on an empty grave. One of these days I’ll have them, and I’ll bury him. I’ll never give up.”
“Leon’s memory will always, always be around,” she promised. “Nobody will ever forget about my son as long as I have breath in my lungs to speak his name.”
On the 20th anniversary, Smith’s fight to preserve the memory of her son and the firefighters who looked like him continues.
“When it comes to 9/11, it takes me all the way back, all the way back to that day,” she told PIX 11. “I saw the towers falling. I didn’t know Leon was in there when the towers was falling.”
Smith’s story of Leon’s sacrifice doesn’t gloss over the hardships he reportedly experienced before his death at the hands of his fellow Fire Department of New York firefighters. “They gave Leon a hard time,” she previously stated.
“They put oil in his boots, took the truck, and ran over his boots. They tried to destroy Leon’s spirit. But he was a strong-willed young man.”
Two decades later, the Fire Department of New York is still dealing with racial issues. The department is currently facing federal charges relating to a Black firefighter who alleges that he was suspended in retaliation for refusing to follow his boss’ order to turn hoses on George Floyd protestors in May 2020.
The city of New York recently settled a lawsuit from a former FDNY Chief, Michael Gala, who alleged that his 2007-2011 letters calling out department-wide racial discrimination in “The Chief Leader” negatively impacted his career.