Honoring Charles L. Gittens
February 1 carries special meaning to the men and women of the United States Secret Service. It was on that day in 1956 when Charles L. Gittens of Cambridge, Massachusetts was sworn in as a special agent, becoming the first African American to serve the agency in such a role.
Throughout his 23-year career with USSS, Gittens rose through the ranks, serving first in Charlotte, North Carolina, with subsequent postings in New York City, San Juan, Puerto Rico and the Washington, DC field office, where he was promoted in 1971 to special agent in charge.
Charles Gittens broke racial barriers throughout his career and did so again in 1977, when he became the agency’s first African American deputy assistant director for the Office of Inspection, a position he held until his retirement in 1979.
Mr. Gittens was the first African American to serve as a special agent in the U.S. Secret Service, and was sworn in on February 1, 1956.
His remarkable career included a number of undercover investigations and he was a member of “The Special Detail,” focused on curtailing counterfeiting activities in the United States and abroad. As a special agent, Mr. Gittens protected Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson, as well as Vice President Humphrey, Mrs. Kennedy, and President Johnson’s daughter Linda Bird.
Committed to expanding diversity with the ranks of the Secret Service, Mr. Gittens was part of the agency’s first minority recruitment program in 1965, visiting predominantly African American colleges and universities to talk about the Secret Service and its employment opportunities. In March 1971 he was chosen to serve as an Equal Employment Opportunity Counselor for all Secret Service employees, and in November 1974, Charles Gittens was profiled in Ebony magazine.
Reflecting on his career, Gittens once said “Looking back, when I enlisted in the Service, I knew everybody. Knew every agent personally. It is a lot different now. We have steadily expanded, both in size itself or in the area of our responsibility. But the Service is a lot like home, even now. And I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”
At the age of 82, Deputy Assistant Director Charles Gittens, Office of Inspection, passed away July 27, 2011.
Speaking at the time of his death, then Director Mark Sullivan remarked, “[t]he passing of Deputy Assistant Director Gittens represents a sad day for the Secret Service family. Mr. Gittens’ legacy of accomplishments will live on with all those who knew him, as well as all of us who benefitted from the path he created and standards he set as the first African American agent in the Secret Service. His contributions to this agency and this country cannot be overstated.”