First Black Woman to Join US Secret Service, Zandra Flemister Dies at 71 After Battle with Alzheimer’s and Racism

by Joseph Omoniyi
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Zandra Flemister, the first Black woman to join the US Secret Service, passed away at the age of 71 after a long fight with Alzheimer’s disease. She leaves behind a legacy of a successful political career and a battle against racism and discrimination.

Flemister was a trailblazer in the Secret Service, having started her work there in 1974, protecting the families of US presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter. In 1978, she transferred out to the foreign service, where she served as supervisory consul general in Pakistan and was selected for the senior foreign service in 2006.

However, Flemister’s tenure at the Secret Service was plagued by racism and discrimination. She was a plaintiff in a class-action lawsuit against the agency that detailed the widespread culture of racist discrimination within the Secret Service. The lawsuit saw more than 100 Black agents and former agents detail their experiences of microaggressions, ultimatums, and hostile verbal comments.

During her time in the Secret Service, Flemister encountered colleagues who referred to her as a “prisoner” while on duty, made derogatory comments about her hair, and placed a gorilla’s picture on her identification. She also witnessed anti-Black racism from her colleagues while working with African and Caribbean leaders during their visits to the US.

Flemister’s career was cut short by Alzheimer’s disease, which she battled for years before requesting retirement at the age of 59 in 2010. Her symptoms became too severe for her to continue with the lawsuit, which she fought for the rights of herself and other Black agents who had experienced racism and discrimination.

Flemister’s husband, John Collinge, confirmed that she died of respiratory failure related to Alzheimer’s disease. Survivors include her son, Samuel Collinge.

Flemister’s contributions to the Secret Service and her fight against racism and discrimination will be remembered by many, and she is seen as an inspiration to future generations of agents.


Joseph Omoniyi

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