Virtual Memorial Service:


The memorial service will take place on Saturday, May 27, 2023 at 2:00pm EST at the River Road Unitarian Universalist Congregation, located at 6301 River Rd, Bethesda, MD 20817.  For those unable to attend the memorial service in-person, you can participate remotely by joining the virtual memorial service link above.

The reception will take place on Saturday, May 27, 2023 at 3:30pm EST at the River Road Unitarian Universalist Congregation, located at 6301 River Rd, Bethesda, MD 20817.




Hired as a special agent in 1974, she was hailed as ‘a trailblazer’ at the agency. But discrimination led her to leave for a career in the State Department.

It took the Secret Service nearly a century to hire its first Black special agent, Charles L. Gittens, in 1956. Another 15 years would pass before the organization brought on its first female agents, and still a few more years went by before Zandra I. Flemister became the first Black woman in that role in 1974.

Ms. Flemister, who died Feb. 21 at 71, was unaware of the milestone until she was sworn in. She was “a trailblazer who dedicated her life to service and inspired a future generation of agents,” Kimberly Cheatle, the agency’s director, said in a statement after Ms. Flemister’s death. But from her first days on the job, Ms. Flemister endured acts of racism and discrimination that would ultimately drive her from the agency she had so eagerly hoped to serve. She was often relegated to undesirable roles within the agency, which investigates forgery, counterfeiting and other financial crimes in addition to protecting the president, vice president and other dignitaries and their families. Ms. Flemister was on duty at the Washington field office when a fellow agent once gestured to her and remarked, “Whose prisoner is she?” — a comment, she later recalled, that left her “embarrassed and humiliated.”

A superior told her that if she wished to be assigned to more prestigious, higher-paying security details, she would need to abandon her Afro-style haircut. Ms. Flemister complied. But when she was placed on protective duty, she felt that she was there “solely for exhibition,” she recounted, as the “‘show’ African-American female agent that the Secret Service rotated around to different details to make it appear racially diverse.”

Once, she told a friend, a colleague taped an image of a gorilla over Ms. Flemister’s photograph on her official ID card. During visits to the United States by the presidents of Senegal and Grenada, Ms. Flemister said she heard White special agents refer to both leaders using the n-word. Suspects in criminal investigations were openly described with the same epithet. When Ms. Flemister reported such incidents to a superior, no action, to her knowledge, she said, was taken.

“I remained in the Secret Service because I wanted to be a trailblazer for other African-American women,” she wrote years later in an affidavit filed in support of a class-action lawsuit, initiated in 2000, that alleged rampant racial discrimination within the Secret Service.

“With my requests for transfers to career-enhancing squads consistently denied, my credibility and competency constantly questioned, and the common use of racial epithets in my presence,” she wrote, “I saw the handwriting on the wall: Because of my race I would never be allowed to have a successful career in the Secret Service.”

Ms. Flemister left the agency in 1978, taking a pay cut to join the Foreign Service. During more than three decades with the State Department, she served on postings around the world, including as consul general in Islamabad, Pakistan, and in Washington as the senior State Department representative at the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center.

In her early 50s, Ms. Flemister began to experience memory loss that was the first sign of early-onset dementia. She retired from the State Department in 2011 and had descended so deeply into her illness that she was unable to follow the developments in the discrimination lawsuit brought against the Secret Service.

The Washington Post 

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