Unlocking History

Black History Month spotlight: Otis Loggins rose through ranks

Otis Loggins images from 1977 and 1972.
Otis Loggins began as a correctional officer in 1958, promoting through the ranks until retiring nearly 40 years later. At left is Loggins as superintendent at CTF in 1977 and at right is Loggins in 1972 while working in parole.

Only a year after President Eisenhower signed the Civil Rights Act, Otis Loggins put on a correctional officer’s uniform and reported for duty at California Medical Facility (CMF). The year was 1958.

Loggins rose through the ranks, taking on leadership roles at institutions and headquarters. When he started at CMF, he was one of two African American correctional officers. A decade later, he promoted to captain, the first African American to do so in the department.

Otis Loggins gets started at new institution

In his book, “Prison Work: A Tale of Thirty Years in the California Department of Corrections,” Richard Wilkinson recalls Otis Loggins being one of two African American correctional officers working at CMF.

“They started out a little after I came (to CMF),” he wrote. Wilkinson was part of the activation team at CMF in 1956, getting the first incarcerated workers settled into their routine. When that was settled, he helped train new employees.

After a brief period as an officer, Loggins promoted to sergeant, assigned to Wilkinson.

“I put him in a relief position, relieving the watch sergeant and another sergeant two days a week,” Wilkinson wrote. “(When) you want a new watch sergeant, and you want him trained, you put him into relief so he knows the job.”

When the watch sergeant left, Wilkinson proposed Loggins to replace him. His choice was met by resistance but he stuck by his decision and the promotion was approved.

Loggins promoted to watch sergeant and a few months later was made a training sergeant.

Loggins promotes to leadership roles

“Then he promoted to lieutenant and went to Central Office. He continued to promote,” Wilkinson wrote.

The U.S. Air Force veteran steadily rose through the ranks, becoming assistant departmental training officer and then correctional captain in 1968. He is noted as being “the first black correctional captain in the history of the Department of Corrections,” according to news reports and Wilkinson’s book.

In 1972, Loggins was appointed district administrator for the Oakland Office of the Division of Paroles. Five years later, he was appointed superintendent at Correctional Training Facility at Soledad, serving until 1981. He also promoted to assistant deputy director for Institutions. In 1984, he was appointed superintendent of a new prison in Avenal, known then as the State Prison at Kings County. After 31 years of service, he retired in 1989, but volunteers for Friends Outside as a counselor.

Loggins passed away in 2003.

By Don Chaddock, Inside CDCR editor

Learn more about the Civil Rights Movement at the Library of Congress.

Learn more about California prison history.

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