It was an employment ad in the newspaper that caught Al Beverly's attention.

Sandwiched between want ads for plumbers and a pool table mechanic was a notice seeking patrolmen. Alexandria was trying to fill its rookie class of 1965: starting salary $5,425, with uniforms and equipment furnished.

Beverly had worked in law enforcement during his four years in the Air Force. Glancing at the ad, he knew he was well suited for the job.

He did not know that Alexandria had never employed a black police officer. In fact, none of Washington's major suburbs had.

Beverly would be the first.

It was a historic moment for Alexandria. Articles were written announcing the arrival of the city's first "negro" officer. Beverly, then 24, told reporters he didn't want publicity.

In his first interview with The Washington Post, the soft-spoken young officer said he viewed his employment as a "great opportunity" for himself and other blacks.

In the years after his hiring in a city filled with racial tension, Beverly, now 64, would become the first black officer to help investigate allegations of police brutality against minorities, and he was a pioneer on the city's new community policing team. In that role, he tried to bridge the gap between the city's black community and what then was an almost exclusively white force of 170 sworn officers.

On Monday, city officials gathered to remember Beverly's contributions, holding a ceremony to mark the 40th anniversary of his swearing-in on Oct. 1, 1965.

Former colleagues traveled from as far away as Florida to hear the proclamation of Oct. 1 as Albert Beverly Day and to praise the man they said helped break down racial barriers for officers of color who followed. Today the force has 317 sworn officers, about 20 percent of whom are black. One-third of the department's officers are non-white.

"What Al did was smooth the way for the people behind him," said Deputy Chief Earl Cook, the department's highest-ranking black officer. Despite difficult times, "it made a difference that he didn't blow up or lose himself or quit or say this is for someone else. Therein lies the courage to get through it and not let either side drive you away from what you want to be," Cook said. Beverly was born and raised in King George County and attended Saint Paul's College in Lawrenceville for a year before dropping out and joining the Air Force. He did well on Air Force electronics tests, but he wanted to be a police officer. He was assigned to what was then known as the Air Force Air Police.

After returning to civilian life, Beverly began looking for a job. He said it never occurred to him that Alexandria's police department had no black officers. The D.C. police department employed blacks and so did Fredericksburg's, which hired its first black officer in 1953 to patrol the area's predominantly-black communities. Arlington County would hire its first black officer in December 1967.

News reports from the time say that Alexandria officials had been seeking a black officer for more than three years but that applicants had been deemed unqualified. Discussions among city leaders over whether to hire a black officer dated back nearly a century. In 1870, several black men were nominated to police the city's streets, according to the Alexandria Gazette.

The articles describe lengthy discussions among city leaders about whether to appoint one of the men, Robert Darnell, a former railroad switch tender, to the force. Darnell was regarded as reliable, "competent and well fitted for the post," but officials decided that it "would be unwise to appoint colored policemen," under the notion that it would be a mistake to have blacks and whites working side by side in law enforcement.

Ninety-five years would pass before a black man would be welcomed onto the force.

Beverly discovered that getting hired wasn't the last hurdle he would face in the department. He couldn't join the police association, whose bylaws used the word Caucasian to describe members.

"I felt like a fly in a pan of buttermilk," said Beverly, who retired from the force in 1985. "I was a little bit despondent, feeling like I couldn't be a full-fledged police officer."

But the association held a special meeting shortly after Beverly was hired and voted to change the wording. And, at least for a while, Beverly recalled, he was treated like a celebrity in the black communities he patrolled.

"Everyone treated me so nice," Beverly said. "When I first came on, black people hailed me as a hero. People would lean out their windows and yell, 'Officer Beverly! Officer Beverly!' "

"In our eyes he certainly was a hero," said Mayor William D. Euille (D), 55, who grew up in a public housing project across the street from the old police station and who in 2003 became the city's first black mayor.

A Turbulent Era

Beverly joined the police force during a tumultuous time. The civil rights movement was peaking amid peaceful marches, violent protests and police brutality. Malcolm X was assassinated in 1965. Riots erupted in Los Angeles's Watts section, and a new Voting Rights Act was signed. It was also the year that Alexandria's public schools officially desegregated, becoming the first in the state to do so.

Given these events, Euille said Alexandria leaders probably believed it was time for the city to have a black officer.

At first, Beverly's appointment was heralded by many blacks who believed they'd been unfairly targeted by white officers. Beverly, they believed, would be their advocate, he said. "They wanted me to arrest the white people and let the black people go," Beverly recalled.

"I do recall it was very challenging for him being the first," Euille said. "People expected him not only to be their savior but their protector as well and not the person who would be arresting them. They thought he should be the person protecting them from other officers."

Beverly faced discrimination from whites. One night as a rookie, he and his white partner, Bill James, went to the home of a white woman who had reported a case of breaking and entering. James, now 64, said the woman made it clear that she did not want Beverly inside the house. He walked back to the cruiser and waited until James had taken a report.

"Afterward I told Al, 'When you work with me, wherever I go you go, or we don't go at all,' " recalled James, who was Beverly's first training partner. "Al Beverly was accepted just like any other officer. We didn't see any color there. We saw another officer."

Beverly said he was largely treated respectfully by his colleagues and enjoyed a good relationship with other officers.

"Ninety-eight percent of us accepted" the department's integration. "It was no problem," said Norman E. Grimm Sr., 74, who joined the department in 1953 and retired in 1980 as the chief of detectives. He is now the president of the Alexandria Retired Police, Fire and Sheriff Association.

"The other 2 percent were quiet about it," added Monroe K. Bryant, 65, who joined the force in 1962. "They wanted to wait and see what happened, but I never heard anyone say anything bad."

But black officers who followed said they vividly remembered the struggles they faced in blending into the force.

Felton Gilliam, 57, served in the department from 1971 to 1980. On Monday he spoke privately about those struggles, recalling officers who would direct racially charged insults at suspects during arrests, despite the hurt it caused their black colleagues. Gilliam said that on at least one occasion he was handcuffed during a struggle with a suspect -- in the confusion, officers assumed that his black arm belonged to the suspect, he said.

"You had to deal with people in the street and police officers that weren't ready to accept black police officers in the department," Gilliam said. Still, he added, "when the blue had to be colorblind, it was. You got treated fairly."

In 1969, in an effort to forge a better relationship with the community, police officials created a community relations team, pairing Beverly with a white officer, Ferdinand C. Plitt Jr., to reach out to residents. Plitt died in 2001.

During a meeting with members of the now-disbanded Black Association for Cultural Advancement, who were angered by what they alleged were the racist attitudes of police, Beverly came under verbal assault.

He was accused of adopting "white rationale" and having a "white heart in a black body." Beverly told the association's members that he had experienced discrimination and racial slurs and understood the problems blacks faced. He explained that in his new job he hoped to ease tensions between the police and the black community.

"I caught a lot of hell from black people," Beverly said. "I was thrown to the wolves after I started making arrests." It took awhile, Beverly said, "but they fell in love with me."

"He gained an awful lot of respect from people, black and white," Euille said. "He provided a common sense of purpose to the community."

Beverly lived in Alexandria until 1981, when he and his wife returned to King George to be near relatives. He commuted to Alexandria until he retired from the force in 1985 and took a job with the Defense Department police. Beverly and his wife divorced in 1992; they have two children from the marriage.

Injuries suffered off-duty forced him to retire for good in 2003. He lives in King George with his 85-year-old mother.

Gwen Robbins, 55, joined Alexandria's police department in 1974, becoming its first black female officer as well as one of the first women to be assigned to patrol. She traveled from Savannah, Ga., where she's an assistant to the district attorney, to attend Monday's ceremony. When she joined the department, the emphasis was on her sex, not her race, she recalled. "I think the public's perception was 'Damn! There are women out here patrolling these streets!' "

She credits Beverly with breaking down racial barriers, making it easier to navigate the department.

"I think it's very important to note [that Beverly] was at the forefront of integrating the police department," Robbins said. "As with any other organization, the first person truly paves the way for others."

Law enforcement officers from around the region, many of them black, attended Beverly's ceremony, some sidling up to him in search of autographs.

"I don't even know him, but I want to shake his hand," said Charlette Young, 42, an Alexandria crime prevention specialist. "You just have to give honor where honor is due."

Beverly took the praise in stride, smiling broadly as friends and former colleagues patted him on the back and spoke glowingly about his achievements.

Alexandria Police Chief Charles E. Samarra took to the lectern to praise Beverly's role during some of the most turbulent times in the civil rights movement.

Beverly, he said, "is a man who is living history."

Albert Beverly, above, and with fellow Alexandria officers in 1967, at right.

At a ceremony Monday, Alexandria officers Gerald Ford, left, and David Miller present a portrait to Beverly.