Saturday, August 28, 1999

Pastor passes the torch

Bishop Crumes helped open Coney Island pool

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Bishop William E. Crumes
        A young minister sat in the back of a pickup truck as it crossed the Ohio River on Old Route 42, coming from Louisville into Cincinnati.

        Bishop William E. Crumes remembers that day in 1948 when the truck pulled into Avondale to deliver him to his new job as pastor of the Church of The Living God.

        “I still had Kentucky sand in my shoes,” he jokes.

        He was immediately thrust into a major role in events that would shape the future of race relations in Cincinnati. Over the next few years, he confronted such issues as the integration of theaters, restaurants and other public facilities. And he found himself leading a protest march that became pivotal in the civil rights movement in Cincinnati.

        Bishop Crumes, 85, retires Sunday after 51 years as pastor.

Bishop William E. Crumes, left, stops to chat with Eula Hunter during a tour of Avondale Friday with his successor, the Rev. Elbert Jones III.
(Glenn Hartong photo)
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        He and two other ministers led a march against Coney Island, demanding it open the swimming pool to African-Americans.

        Bishop Crumes has faded memories of that hot summer day in 1952 when he and the Rev. Benjamin Evans and Rev. Maurice McCracken, both now deceased, led the group of 25 or 30 people

        to the ticket window to buy pool passes.

        “We would line up — one black person, then a white person, another black person and then a white person,” he said. “They would sell swimming passes to the whites, but when a black person asked to purchase a swimming pass, they wouldn't sell them. They told them they could apply for a (janitorial) job,” he said.

        The pool was integrated later that year, after several marches.

        “It seems as if the success at Coney Island sort of broke things open,” said Catherine Buford of North Avondale, one of the marchers. “A lot of things happened after Coney Island. I think the community realized we meant business.”

        Mrs. Buford is a longtime civil rights leader in Cincinnati who did extensive research in preparing the NAACP desegregation lawsuit against the Cincinnati school board in 1963.

Bishop William E. Crumes leads members of the Church of the Living God on a march through downtown Cincinnati in 1963.
(Enquirer file photo)
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        Integration of the pool had a special meaning in the transformation of human dignity, said Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, who was 5 years old at the time.

        Mr. Blackwell remembers being carried on the shoulders of an uncle at one of the marches, terrified that if violence occurred he'd be a perfect target.

        “To see the dark side of human dignity expressed in race prejudice, and then see the difference in later years, helps you to appreciate the work of Bishop Crumes,” Mr. Blackwell said. “Civility is the one word that describes him to me. He has been a quiet, but strong, advocate of civil rights.”

        Lucy Green, a white woman who held several offices with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, also was one of the marchers at Coney Island.

        “When enough whites were admitted, we blocked the turnstiles to keep other whites out because they wouldn't let the blacks through. I got arrested,” she said.

        Forty years after the marches, Mr. Blackwell was featured in a commercial for Coney Island, zooming down a water slide.

        “I often went back to compare the experience; a scared kid, tugging along with the giants in the civil rights movement, and then returning to enjoy the benefits,” Mr. Blackwell said.

        Mr. Blackwell met Bishop Crumes when the minister was a barber at the Jenkins Barbershop, at Rockdale and Burnet avenues in Avondale.

        The Jenkins Barbershop later became the Staggs Barbershop. Staggs was the heart of the Burnet Avenue business district in Avondale. The daily forums on civil rights, politics and social issues helped to cultivate a generation of black politicians and activists.

        “This is where I learned about his philosophy on religion and politics,” Mr. Blackwell said.

        Bishop Crumes' status as a civic leader grew as did his status as a minister.

        In 1963, when he was president of the Avondale Community Council, he led an estimated 14,000 people in a march in downtown Cincinnati, protesting discrimination in education, jobs and housing.

        Although Bishop Crumes today expresses some discontent in the progress made in civil rights and how his civic work failed to bring lasting improvements, he says he wouldn't have done anything different.

        “I have seen many young black families who took advantage of what we tried to accomplish go on to get an education, good jobs and buy homes, but I see so much destruction when I look around right here in my own community,” Bishop Crumes said. “There are a lot of people we are not reaching. The progress is moving too slow.”

        Bishop Crumes is succeeded by the Rev. Elbert Jones III, 24, who will be installed Sunday at the church.

        “I feel good about turning over the reins to a younger man,” Bishop Crumes said.

        The Rev. Mr. Jones comes from the Church of the Living God in Memphis. He is studying for a degree in business administration at the University of Cincinnati.

        “I realize I have some big shoes to fill and I am scared and nervous,” he said. “Following in the footsteps of a pioneer like him is an honor. I plan to stand on what he has done in the church and in the community and move forward.”


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