On February 22, 2018, the St. Mary’s County Sheriff’s Office honored Sheriff Joseph Lee Somerville Sr., who was the first African-American to be elected Sheriff in the state of Maryland. The event was held at the Elks Lodge, in California, Maryland, and presentations were made by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Fraternal Order of Police (FOP #7), and the St. Mary’s County Historical Society, and a special presentation was made by Special Agent in Charge (SAC) Gordon Johnson, from the Federal Bureau of Investigation-Baltimore Division. The event was co-hosted by the United Committee for Afro-American Contributions (UCAC), the NAACP, and Sheriff Tim Cameron; keynote speaker for the event was Charles County Sheriff Troy Berry.
Sheriff Somerville began his career as a Deputy Sheriff with the St. Mary’s County Sheriff’s Office in 1966. By 1976, Sheriff Somerville had earned the rank of Lieutenant. In March of 1977, Sheriff Somerville was appointed Sheriff to finish out the term of Sheriff George Sanger, who died during his term. At the time of his appointment, there were five African-Americans holding the position of Sheriff in the United States. Sheriff Somerville finished out the remainder of the term, and in 1978 launched a vigorous election campaign; much of his campaign platform focused on leadership, experience, and integrity. Sheriff Somerville was successful in his campaign and was elected Sheriff of St. Mary’s County.
Sheriff Somerville continues to serve his community; he is currently a bailiff for Judge Karen H. Abrams of the St. Mary’s County Circuit Court. Sheriff Somerville is proud to be serving the citizens of St. Mary’s County, and having two of his sons follow in his footsteps; son Kevin retired from the Sheriff’s Office after serving for twenty-five years, and son Joseph is proudly carrying on his father’s legacy with over twenty-two years of service thus far with the St. Mary’s County Sheriff’s Office.
For more exciting history of the oldest, continuously operating Sheriff’s Office in the nation, the “America’s First” history book, is available for purchase. The price of the hardback copy is $95, and the softbound copy is $35; both styles of the book can be purchased at the Sheriff’s Office located at 23150 Leonard Hall Drive, in Leonardtown, Maryland.
Images provided courtesy of the St. Mary’s County Sheriff’s Office PIO