John H. Baker (1935-2007)

Written By North Carolina History Project

John H. Baker was North Carolina’s first African American sheriff.  He served in this office for twenty-four years.

Before his law enforcement career, Baker was a defensive lineman in the National Football League (NFL).  After playing football for North Carolina Central University, he played professional ball. His NFL tenure lasted eleven years and with three teams: the Los Angeles Rams, the Pittsburgh Steelers, and the Detroit Lions.  A native of Oberlin Village in Raleigh, North Carolina, Baker returned to his childhood community during the NFL off-seasons and worked as a youth counselor with the Raleigh Police Department.

His interest in helping troubled youths continued after his football career. Baker became the first African American appointed to the North Carolina State Parole Board in 1970. In 1978, Baker was elected Wake County Sheriff.  For twenty-four years Baker served as sheriff, and in this time, Baker proposed that a charter school be started and located at the county jail. Such an opportunity, Baker argued, allowed incarcerated youths opportunities to obtain their education and thereby served as a means of reform. The John H. Baker Jr. Charter School began in 1997, and according to the Raleigh News and Observer, it was “one of the county’s first charter schools.” In 2002, Baker lost the sheriff’s election. The school continued for four more years.

Baker died in 2007.