Barton A. Fields, 91, a Philadelphia-born state official who was secretary of the commonwealth and the first Black secretary of revenue, died Tuesday, April 19, from respiratory failure at his residence at Wyncote Place.
Mr. Fields spent most of his adult life in Harrisburg, where he worked in state government for 40 years: He was secretary of state from 1977 to 1979 after serving as deputy secretary under former Secretary of State C. Delores Tucker; then deputy secretary again under former Secretary of State Ethel D. Allen, who had been the first Black woman elected to Philadelphia City Council; and from 1987 to 1989, Mr. Fields headed the Revenue Department, appointed by then-Gov. Robert P. Casey Sr.
He did not see himself as a politician, but, rather, as a public servant.
“Service was important to him,” said his daughter, Lynn Fields-Harris. “He was interested in government as a way of making change for people, particularly for Black people.”
Those concerns about justice began early, she said.
He was 18 when he joined A. Philip Randolph’s labor movement’s picketing of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia in 1948, in a protest against the segregated U.S. military.
Only 12 days after the convention ended, President Harry Truman signed Executive Order 9981, on July 26, 1948, banning segregation in the armed forces.
In addition to his government career, Mr. Fields was also active in Harrisburg civic, business, and educational affairs.
He was president of the Greater Harrisburg NAACP and was also sectional director of the Pennsylvania State Conference of NAACP branches.
He chaired the board of the Harristown Development Corp., and led it during the development of two major projects: Strawberry Square, a mixed-use retail and commercial complex in downtown Harrisburg, and Harrisburg’s tallest office tower at 333 Market St.
Earlier in his career, at the Department of Education, Mr. Fields traveled to the South to recruit Black college graduates to work as teachers in the Harrisburg schools.
In the 1990s, he was elected to the Harrisburg school board.
Mr. Field’s son, Barton Anthony Fields, said of his father: ”At an early age, we were held accountable for our actions. He always stressed that it was not always about doing the convenient thing, but doing the right thing.”
Barton Archibald Fields was born in Philadelphia on May 22, 1930, the eldest of three children of Archibald A. and Daisy A. Fields, immigrants from Barbados.
His father was an elevator operator at a building on Rittenhouse Square, and his mother, a teacher in her home country, was a homemaker.
Their parents sent Barton and his younger brother, Carl, to Barbados for elementary school because as a teacher, their mother said the literacy levels in Barbados were higher than in Philadelphia, Fields-Harris said.
Mr. Fields graduated from South Philadelphia High School for Boys in 1948. He worked before starting at Pennsylvania State University in State College, and continued to work to put himself through college. He graduated with a bachelor’s in political science in 1954.
While at Penn State, Mr. Fields was one of the founding charter members of the Delta Theta Chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity Inc. He was also a charter member of the fraternity’s Harrisburg Alumni Chapter.
After college, Mr. Fields joined the U.S. Army, where he became a staff sergeant in charge of a communications center in South Korea.
In 1957, he married Violet Wilkins, whom he had known from his South Philadelphia neighborhood.
That same year, the couple moved to Harrisburg, where Mr. Fields began his government career: He was hired as the first Black person to serve as a personnel management specialist in the governor’s Office of Administration.
He went on to hold other government positions at the Public Utility Commission, the Auditor General’s Office, and the Department of Education.
Mr. Fields and his wife had two children and remained married 26 years until she died in a car accident in 1983.
The church was important throughout his life. During his youth, Mr. Fields served on the altar of St. Simon the Cyrenian Church in South Philadelphia. In Harrisburg, he served on the vestry and on the altar at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church.
In retirement, Mr. Fields was an audiophile who enjoyed listening to music on high-end stereo equipment, his son said.
He was fond of jazz, especially Miles Davis and Cannonball Adderley, and was a board member of the Central Pennsylvania Friends of Jazz.
He returned to the Philadelphia area in 2014 to be closer to his children.
In addition to his daughter and son, Mr. Fields is survived by a sister, Eileen Griffith; three nephews; one niece; and other relatives and friends.
A funeral service was held Friday, May 6.
Memorial contributions may be made to St. Simon the Cyrenian Church, 1401 S. 22nd St., Philadelphia, Pa., 19146.