In 2008, Luke (Bob) Block and I returned to Wilcox County to find families we had loved and worked with in 1965. Bob and Georgia Crawford, stalwart leaders in the Pine Apple area of the county, had been warm hosts to Luke and other civil rights workers. We met with their son, Bob Crawford Jr., who taught high school in Monroe County for many years. Over many hours of animated conversation, one of the things Crawford stressed 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]
Indeed, Crawford’s sacrifice of a prestigious teaching job for trucking was well rewarded by all three of his “little girls” successes in life. Bob and Jessie 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 a public relations specialist at the University of South Alabama, and the youngest, Jessietta C.Thomas, is a principal at Hayneville Road Acceleration Academy in Montgomery, Alabama.
In conversation with people whose families were active in civil rights, I learned that many took interstate truck driving jobs for part or all of their career. Due to new interstate federal anti-discrimination laws and unionization, driving truck became one the best paying jobs that a Southern Black male could hope to obtain while living in that region, in that era. Truck driving was not a career option for women at that time, and still is a rarity.
More of the Crawfords’ family story and their heroic involvement in the Civil Rights Movement is included in my forthcoming book, This Bright Light of Ours: Stories from the Wilcox County Freedom Fight, University of Alabama Press 2014 – Maria Gitin
PS If you admire the handcrafted coffee mugs in the top photo, they are produced by Luke’s wife Willow with the help of Luke and their family. Available at selected craft fairs and online, learn more about Crow Mountain Pottery at http://crowmountainpottery.com/
[i] Bob Crawford Jr., remarks edited in a telephone interview with Maria Gitin, Beatrice AL, June 2, 2009.