James Tempro is an 88-year-old retired firefighter and a certified hero, who served as a firefighter for 32 years. In 1968, he saved an unconscious boy from a huge fire in New York City's Bedford-Stuyvesant, a brave rescue that left him very injured.
Making the rescue even more heroic is the fact that these injuries didn't concern Tempro at all.
"The great thing was to see the child recover," Tempro told ABC Raleigh.
Tempro's fearless rescue earned him the FDNY’s top honor: the James Gordon Bennett medal, named after founder of the New York Herald and overall top 19th century journalist. Tempro made history by becoming the first African American to receive the 148-year-old medal.
However, there's been a twist.
Tempro came across a book a few years ago that unveiled Bennett's dark side.
Sure he was a founder and great reporter, but Bennett was a yellow journalist and a pro-slavery racist whose editorials were filled with slurs against black people. Bennett, who was one of the country’s richest and most powerful figures, consistently referred to black people as “inferior” and “wild beasts” in his pieces.
The irony of a black man winning a medal named for someone who hated black Americans wasn't lost on Tempro. But he wasn't satisfied with an ironic victory: he wanted to correct history. "You have to take a stand somewhere," he said.
Inspired by the recent Confederate flag and monument controversy, Tempro decided to take his stand.
"Here it is 2017 and we're still fighting those battles," Tempro said of those controversies.
Instead he wants the medal to no longer be the department’s top honor. This, of course means he would lose his place in history as the first black firefighter to receive the department's top award, something he believes is worth it.
However, should the FDNY decide that they want to keep things as they are, Tempro has another plan.
"If they take no action, I will respectfully mail my medal back to the fire department," Tempro said. "When we have a guy that is stoking the fires of racism in America and division, it's almost now or never to speak out about this."