Reginald Ballard, Sr.
November 21, 1924 – June 30, 2021
Rank at time of graduation: Second Lieutenant (2nd Lt)
Unit: 477th Bombardment Group
Reginald Ballard Sr., the youngest of two sons, was born in Los Angeles, California to Dr. Claudius and Mrs. May Lee Ballard on November 21, 1924. He was a fourth generation Angeleno following father Dr. Claudius, grandfather William, and great-grandfather John Ballard, the first Black landowner in the east Santa Monica mountains.
Reginald, affectionately known as Reggie, matriculated through the L.A. school system attending Foshay and Berendo Junior High Schools, and Los Angeles Polytechnic High School, graduating in the midst of World War II. A friend encouraged Reggie to take a placement test for the Army Air Corps. At the time, Black men in the Army and Navy were relegated to nothing more than cooks or other support/service roles. After passing the test and enlisting, he was sent to pilot training at an airfield in Alabama designated for a new, segregated program considered by bureaucrats to be a doomed experiment at best. Reggie lent his talents to this all-Black flying corps, now celebrated as the famed Tuskegee Airmen. These airmen dominated the enemy so thoroughly in their sorties, bomber pilots specifically requested Tuskegee pilots as their preferred escorts. Later, President Harry Truman formally integrated the military in 1948, the first government institution to take this step.
Following his military service, Reggie returned home to Los Angeles, beginning his civilian career as a mail carrier then a worker in an ice cream factory. In his early twenties, he met the woman of his dreams, Margaret Lewis. Her gregarious cheer complemented Reggie’s planning nature. In preparation for a life with Margaret, and in response to her requirement, Reggie joined the church – not just as a member, but as one of the saints. In pursuit of a more stable career, he joined the Los Angeles Fire Department in 1949. A couple years later, and with great fanfare, the couple tied the knot on June 23, 1951. Lovely Margaret glided down the aisle in a red wedding gown as Reggie watched his incredible future approach. Margaret and Reggie went on to have six children during their life together.
During his 29 years on the fire department, Reggie faced many hurdles that challenged his reserve, the tallest of which was racial segregation. He told many stories of his colleagues’ vile antics, but he stayed up, prayed up and focused. In the early 1950s, he was an original member of the Stentorians, who fought to integrate the Los Angeles Fire Department. Fire Station #30 was built in 1913 and became a segregated fire station in the mid-1920s. Fire Station #30 and Fire Station #14 were the two fire stations open to African American firefighters before LAFD integrated in 1956. Ballard started his career at Fire Station #30 in 1949. Before integration, African American firefighters could only be promoted within the two African American fire companies in Los Angeles; promotional opportunities were limited to only when someone left a position.
Ballard was also a past president of the Consolidated Board of Realtist, an organization formed in 1949 of African American real estate brokers fighting against the inequitable and prejudicial treatment of brokers and the ability for African Americans to purchase real estate in the Los Angeles Area. He is pictured here with a grandchild in front of a historic fire engine at the African American Firefighter Museum.
Reggie understood that land and property ownership empowered people like little else. He set out to secure a path for his family and that of his community. While serving on the fire department he obtained his real estate broker’s license, as did Margaret, and owned their own office that employed family members and many others. Reggie was one of the early members and past president of Consolidated Realty Board, now Consolidated Board of Realtists, which provides real estate industry training and networking. Reggie’s diligence and expertise in real estate finance and architectural planning assisted many Black churches in purchasing new or rehabilitating their existing places of worship. Reggie also drew the plans and built his family’s longtime residence on Fairway Blvd in View Park where he raised his children and grandchildren for over 30 years.
Twice widowed, Reggie remained active with the Los Angeles Chapter of Tuskegee Airmen, Inc., his golf group and the Stentorians. The 2009 inauguration of President Barack Obama was a proud moment for him; he and some of his fellow airmen were invited and attended the ceremony which installed the nation’s first Black commander-in-chief.