We honor the memory of Bob Crawford Jr. who played a role in the Civil Rights Movement that few knew of at the time. Over the past ten years, he and his family have become my family too. I mourn with them, even as we celebrate his long and legendary life. He told me that his role in the Movement was to set an example by being a successful Black man in America: a veteran, a teacher and devoted father and husband. Then, he’d laugh and say, “Well, I couldn’t taken the nonviolent position; I was more of a Deacons for Defense kind of man,” and laugh his big laugh. I loved to talk with him, hear his stories and share in the joys and sorrows of his wife Jessie, and his grown children. Although his home going is this coming Saturday, we will never stop loving him and remembering just one more great “Bob Jr.” story. “Don’t call me Robert, I’m just Bob!” Crawford.
Luke (formerly Bob) Bock who stayed at the home of his parents Bob and Georgia Crawford, stalwart leaders in the Pine Apple area of the county, did not know that their school teacher son Bob Jr came over nights when Black and white civil rights workers were sleeping in his parents home. Bob Jr came to protect the young SNCC and SCLC workers, sitting up all night on a camp chair with a shotgun to make sure no one hurt his parents, their home or the field staff.
Bob Crawford Jr., taught high school in Monroe County for many years. Over many hours of animated conversation, one of the things Crawford stressed to me was education, “One of the best things about having a primarily African American school system is that now they can teach the whole story. I specialized in American History after I got my masters degree. One of my teachers told us ‘Don’t fool those kids and tell them what the Alabama history books say; it is strictly a white man’s history.’
“You had to go to a foreign county to get a true history. I got information from a friend, a retired military man who collected history from other countries. France and Spain wrote more competent histories that told the truth about US history. Negroes were involved in cattle drives, in the Gold Rush. I read some of these books and learned that Negroes were everything from outlaws to ministers, but that never was mentioned in the regular high school history books. So I inserted the information into my teaching. During the Revolutionary War they didn’t say that there were Black soldiers fighting on both sides, mostly for the North. In South Carolina you had Negro congressmen, but no Black leaders were ever mentioned, except maybe George W. Carver and Booker T. Washington. Negro engineers like Horace King built nearly every bridge that connected Georgia and Alabama—never told us anything about that, but I taught my students all of that. They [the administration] reprimanded me for teaching the truth, presenting the facts. But I didn’t get fired, I resigned to get a better paying job. I had two sweet little girls to put through college. Believe it or not, back then, driving truck paid better and had better benefits than teaching school.”[i]
Bob Crawford Jr’s sacrifice of a prestigious teaching job for trucking was well rewarded by all three of his “little girls” successes in life. Bob Crawford’s oldest daughter, Debbie C. Porter, retired after teaching 28 years in the Baldwin County Alabama School System. Middle daughter, Joy Crawford-Washington, is currently the Associate Director of Public Relations at the University of South Alabama, and the youngest, Jessietta C.Thomas, is a principal at Hayneville Road Acceleration Academy in Montgomery, Alabama. All are active in community, church and service work.
More of the Crawfords’ family story and their involvement in the Civil Rights Movement is included in my book, This Bright Light of Ours: Stories from the Wilcox County Freedom Fight, University of Alabama Press 2014 – www.thisbrightlightofours.com