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Debbie Montgomery Papers

Identifier: HQBCA-031


Records from Deborah "Debbie" Montgomery, Saint Paul's first female police officer.


  • 1925-2016

Conditions Governing Access

This collection has some restrictions, please contact archivist for more information.

Biographical / Historical

Deborah “Debbie” Gilbreath Montgomery was born in Saint Paul, Minnesota in 1946 to birth mother Gloria Gilbreath Wilson and birth father Antonio Garcia. Raised by her maternal grandparents, Isabella Gertrude and Elbert Gilbreath, Debbie grew up in the Rondo neighborhood of Saint Paul at 978 St. Anthony Avenue. Both Elbert and Isabella worked at Saint Paul’s Union Depot: Elbert as a Redcap porter and Gertrude as a bathroom matron.

Growing up in Rondo, Debbie spent much of her time playing at Oxford Park with her siblings and neighborhood friends. She attended J.J. Hill School through sixth grade, then attending Marshall and also Central High School. She and her family were members of St. Philip’s Episcopal Church, though in the Summer she would attend Bible Camp at nearby Pilgrim Baptist Church.

At 13 years old Debbie began her involvement with the local youth group branch of the NAACP, traveling for meetings and conferences with other youth from across the nation. In 1963 Debbie took part in the March on Washington and was present when Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. made his “I Have a Dream” speech. Two years later she marched from Selma to Montgomery with Dr. King. At 17 she was the youngest person elected to the NAACP’s national board of directors.

By 1975 Debbie was married with children, had a master’s degree, and was working for the City of Saint Paul as an administrative assistant to mayor Larry Cohen. It was at this time that she was asked by Mayor Cohen to apply to be a Saint Paul police officer. Following a 1971 court case initiated by the NAACP the city was required to recruit more Black officers as a part of their settlement. Mayor Cohen thought that Debbie would pass the written and physical tests, and she did, becoming Saint Paul’s first female police officer. Debbie would serve on the Saint Paul Police Department force for nearly 30 years, becoming the first Black woman to become a sergeant, lieutenant, commander, and senior commander.

Debbie has kept civil service at the forefront of her life, she was elected to the Saint Paul City Council in 2004 and currently is active in many local organizations. In 2014 a stretch of Marshall Avenue between Lexington Parkway and Western Avenue was dedicated as Debbie Montgomery Avenue.

Debbie has a BA from the University of Minnesota, a MA from the University of St. Thomas, a MA from the Humphrey Institute, and graduated from the Senior Police Management Institute at Harvard University.


.5 Linear Feet

Language of Materials



This collection currently consists of one physical box divided into the following two series:

Series I: Biographical Works

Series II: Corporate Works


Hallie Q. Brown Community Center. "Collection Overview: Debbie Montgomery Papers". Hallie Q. Brown Community Archives.

Physical Description

Condition of materials is varied.

Debbie Montgomery Papers
In Progress
Created and described by Marisa Gonzalez Morseth.
August 2023
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
This finding aid was made possible by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Repository Details

Part of the Hallie Q. Brown Community Archives Repository

270 N. Kent Street
Saint Paul MN 55102 USA