When James E. Du Bose rushed into a burning house in Newark to save a group of trapped children in 1963, he wasn’t seeking glory for his heroic acts.
Now 50 years later, Du Bose, a retired Newark police detective and former Director of Security at New Community, has been awarded the Medal of Honor by Newark Police Director Sheilah Coley.
Also known as the Clarion’s “Black History Notes” columnist, Du Bose said he was thrilled when he learned that NPD would be honoring him and his late partner, Det. Norman Harris, at the department’s annual awards ceremony held in the council chambers at City Hall.
“Fantastic. Unbelievable. I can’t describe how happy I feel about it,” Du Bose, 85, said but added, “My only thing is my partner is not here to receive it.”
Capt. Gary Nash, Supervising Officer of the Bureau of Narcotics in the Essex County Sheriff’s Department, accepted the award on behalf of Du Bose, who is retired and lives in Chocowinity, N.C.
Du Bose joined the ranks of NPD at age 29. He still vividly recalls the house fire incident on Sept. 11, 1963. Du Bose and Harris, both patrolmen at the time, were on duty in the area formerly known as the 5th Precinct when they spotted smoke from a two-story house engulfed in flames at 30 Earl Street. Hearing no sirens responding, the officers leaped into action. “Five frightened children, ranging in age from 3 to 11, were running around the first floor of No. 30 as the flames ate up the rear and a sidewall to the roof,” the Newark Evening News reported at the time. Du Bose and Harris broke down the locked door into the house, scooped up five children—including one who was holding a two-month-old puppy—and brought them to safety across the street. Apparently their mother ran out of the burning home and instructed her children to follow her but in a panic, she did not look behind her to see them run back inside and lock the door.
Meanwhile, Du Bose and Harris went back into the blazing building to search for others and, finding none, they “barely exited the building before it collapsed into a flaming, smoking pile of rubble,” the police department said. Du Bose injured his ankle after jumping down half a flight of stairs as the walls collapsed.
At the awards ceremony in City Hall, more than 150 people attended, including politicians and law enforcement officials. Harris’ granddaughter, Dana Harris, accepted the award on behalf of her late grandfather, whom she described as a humble man who did not seek attention for his actions, including the rescue.
“This was news to the entire family,” Harris, 29, of Newark, said.
While Du Bose remembers the details of the rescue, he does not recall feeling fearful as they rushed into the two-alarm fire.
“I wasn’t even thinking about the danger at the time,” he said.
Born and raised in Newark, Du Bose retired from NPD as a detective after serving 28 years. From 1985 to 1992, he worked as head of security at NCC. He then worked at the Essex County Sheriff’s Department from 1992 to 2006.
Du Bose said he believes that he and his partner, both black men, did not receive recognition after performing the daring rescue due to racial prejudices at the time. In a letter to NPD Director Coley dated March 28, Du Bose wrote that he was seeking recognition on behalf of himself and his partner after watching President Obama on the news earlier that month as he presented the Medal of Honor to 24 veterans of World War II and the Korean and Vietnam wars.
“The thought came to me that I also was a victim of prejudice…” Du Bose wrote to the police director. In the letter, he also tucked in a photocopy of the Newark Evening News clipping that detailed the incident. He unearthed the clipping around 2008 when he moved from New Jersey to North Carolina. About a week after Du Bose sent the letter, a sergeant called Du Bose to verify his account of the rescue.
Essex County Sheriff Armando Fontoura called the award “late but well deserved.” He also added, “Jimmy is one of the most decent, caring human beings.”