Tuesday, December 19, 2023

Remembering Former FEMA Director Julius Becton


FEMA is deeply saddened to announce the passing of General Julius Becton Jr. on Nov. 28. Becton dedicated his life to serving the American people and made history as the first African American leader of FEMA.
A decorated veteran, Becton joined the Army Air Corps in 1944. He separated from the army briefly in 1946 in protest of the racism he witnessed and experienced.
“It was a segregated Army and a segregated country," said Becton. “While I could take risks and spill my blood in defense of democracy, I had to sit in the back of the bus. And my enemy, the German and Italian prisoners of war, rode in the front."
When President Truman issued an executive order in 1948 calling for desegregation of the U.S. Armed Forces, Becton returned to serve in the Korean War and the Vietnam War. He eventually rose to the rank of lieutenant general. His decorations included the Distinguished Service Medal, two Silver Stars, two Legion of Merit medals and two Purple Hearts.
After nearly 40 years of service, Becton retired from the U.S. Army. However, his career in public service was far from over. From 1984 to 1985, he served as the Director of the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance for the U.S. Agency for International Development.
In 1985, President Ronald Reagan nominated Becton to lead FEMA. He was confirmed on Oct. 28, 1985. Becton's legacy at FEMA lies in his efforts to reform the organization. Prior to his arrival, the agency had come under investigation for misuse of funds, leading to the resignation of his predecessor. Becton worked tirelessly during his term to restore integrity within FEMA and rebuild public trust. His knowledge of the realities of war made him a great fit to lead our agency in confronting the realities of disasters.  
Becton was known for the efforts he put into connecting with FEMA employees. He often met with FEMA staff at all-hands meetings to hear people's concerns and to project a new image for FEMA. Becton played a critical role in diversifying FEMA's workforce, to include people of different backgrounds and experiences. Because of his efforts, our workforce better reflected the communities we serve, leading us to better understand how we can effectively help them, a mission that we continue to work on improving each day.
Becton went on to serve as a director to several corporations, academic institutions, and associations, but the work he did to better FEMA continued long after he left.
On March 8, 2018, FEMA dedicated the National Response Coordination Center in Becton's name. At the renaming ceremony, Becton was presented with a plaque by former FEMA Administrator Brock Long.
Engraved on the plaque is a quote from Becton: “It's clear to me that if there were no FEMA, someone would have to invent one. We must have a full appreciation for what the country is faced with and we cannot wait on responding. Anytime you have a delay in action, there is a potential for losing lives."
Becton laid the foundation for what the agency is today. The work he did will continue to shape FEMA's core values and its mission for many years to come.   
Read more about Becton's military service and original press release announcing his swearing in archived in the CIA reading room!

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