During Black History Month, it is crucial to acknowledge the contributions of remarkable individuals. Lt. Gen. Julius Becton, Jr. was a respected U.S. figure in history and emergency management. He passed away in November 2023, leaving a lasting legacy.
As the first Black director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency from 1985 to 1989, Becton showed exceptional leadership in U.S. disaster preparedness. We will remember his important contributions for years to come.
Early Years and Military Service of Julius Becton Jr.
Becton, from Bryn Mawr, PA, graduated from Lower Merion High School. His journey from a modest background to national recognition showed his strong determination and resilience.
He overcame racial barriers and moved up in the U.S. Army, serving in the Korean and Vietnam Wars. Becton received praise for displaying great bravery and earned multiple awards, including two Silver Stars and two Purple Hearts. He achieved the rank of lieutenant general and became the second highest-ranking African American officer in the Army before retiring in 1983.
Leadership Role at FEMA
Becton’s transition from a decorated military leader to a trailblazer in emergency management was seamless. Under his leadership, FEMA tackled nearly 100 disasters, ranging from hurricanes and tornadoes to floods and fires. Becton’s dedication to integrity and efficient disaster response transformed FEMA’s reputation and functioning.
His foresight in disaster preparedness extended beyond natural catastrophes. During a Congressional testimony in 1988, Becton highlighted the importance of government involvement in nuclear attack preparedness. The Chernobyl disaster, which occurred just two years prior, heightened this concern. He was instrumental in signing four major emergency management documents, addressing vital areas like emergency coordination, national security, and nuclear safety.
Legacy and Impact of Julius Becton Jr.
After leaving FEMA, Becton continued to make significant contributions in various fields. He was the superintendent of the public school system in Washington, D.C. Afterwards, he became a prominent leader in higher education and private companies. He later wrote a book, “Becton: Autobiography of a Soldier and Public Servant,” which was well-received for its honesty and depth.
Recognizing his lifelong commitment to leadership and service, the Institute for Diversity and Inclusion in Emergency Management (I-DIEM) and Tidal Basin Group established a scholarship in Becton’s name in 2020 to support diverse students in emergency management or homeland security fields of studies. Every year, Tidal Basin’s CEO, Daniel Craig, posts a “Challenge Video” to increase awareness and to encourage other emergency management companies to participate in the scholarship program as well.
Becton’s influence extended well beyond his military and governmental roles. Ebony Magazine frequently recognized him as one of the “Most Influential Blacks in America,” highlighting his substantial influence and exceptional leadership abilities.
On November 28, 2023, he passed away at the age of 97. Becton left an impressive legacy and contributions spanning education, public service, and emergency management. His life’s story represents the heart of Black History Month, honoring the achievements and strength of African Americans.