Special to the Chronicle
In 1963, one year before the passage of the U.S. Civil Rights Bills, Lemuel Crawford and his family opened Crawford’s Shoe Service at 149 West Main Street in Chesterfield. Crawford became the first African-American to operate and own a business in the business district of the town.
For 43 years, the business prospered and was a location where quality shoe repairs could be obtained as well as repairs of leather products such as baseball gloves, golf bags, horse saddles and luggage, as well as a community focal point, especially for newly arrived African-American to the area and everyone to obtain quality workmanship. Although the business also sold shoes, it was unique because Crawford’s made custom orthopedic shoes for persons who required special shoe orthotics due to foot abnormalities, polio, accidents or other special needs footwear.
Crawford, a native of Chesterfield, graduated from Chesterfield Colored High School in 1947. He enrolled in the custom shoemaking course at Denmark Area Trade School, (Denmark Technical College) in Denmark, S.C. After graduating in 1949, he completed a 12 months apprenticeship program at Tew’s Shoe Shop in Bennettsville, S.C. After working as a master shoemaker in shoe shops in South Carolina and North Carolina, and teaching the trade at school for boys in Clinton, Tenn., Crawford successfully fulfilled his entrepreneurial quest and became a business owner, during the time of major societal and racial changes in America.
Due to Crawford’s expertise in shoemaking, he received national certification as an orthopedic shoemaker from the National Registry of Orthopedic Shoemakers from the Shoe Service Institute of America in 1972. The certification consisted of a series of crafting shoe orthotics based on a prescription from medical doctors or orthopedic surgeon and evaluated by the institute. The qualifications were strict and very few orthopedic shoemakers were certified by the Chicago based National Shoe Service Institute in South and North Carolina in 1972.
On Dec. 10, members of Lemuel’s family and friends gathered at Bill’s BBQ to celebrate his 85th birthday and to witness the issuance of the proclamation naming Dec. 7th Lemuel Crawford Day. The proclamation was presented to the Crawford Family from the Town of Chesterfield by Councilwomen Amy Brown and Runnette Wilson.
During the presentation it was noted that Crawford’s ancestors were pioneers in the Chesterfield community and his grandfather, born a slave in 1851, established Davidson Grove in Chesterfield and was a leading pastor in the area and founder of churches in North and South Carolina. Lemuel, who was married to his late wife, Jeanette Lee, a native of Bennettsville, S.C., for 57 years are the parents of Gene Crawford Sr., a retired administrator with NETC and the SC Technical Community College System and the first African-American President of Florence-Darlington Technical College in Florence, S.C.
In 2008, Gene founded Gene Crawford & Associates, LLC. The business provides business and economic development consulting services in G.A. Lennette Crawford-Diggs, is a 25 year Advanced Placement English teacher in the Florence School District 1 in Florence, S.C. and former teacher of the year. Jamal Crawford, is an academic counselor at Benedict College in Columbia, S.C.
The legacy continues: The Crawford Family patriarch was asked his thoughts on the establishment of his business in the 1960s in Chesterfield, S.C. He stated, “He was thankful to God, his family, the wonderful people of the community for their support during the years, and especially the Town of Chesterfield.” He noted that his oldest grandchildren are entrepreneurs and have careers in the medical profession and higher education: Dr. Surgener Crawford, medical scientist and owner of Crawford Medical Research & Biotechnology, Atlanta, Ga.; Dr. Gene Crawford Jr., doctor of Physical Therapy and owner of Functional Physical Therapy Outcome & Rehabilitation in Williamsburg, Va.; and Dr. Fashaad Crawford, vice president of statistical research and diversity at Kent State University, Kent, Ohio.
He concluded by saying “I hope the examples of faith and personal responsibility I tried to demonstrate in the 1960s, will inspire others to realize their dreams, especially the youths of Chesterfield County and the surrounding areas.”