Friday, March 12, 2004

William Crumes, civil rights pioneer

Bishop, 89, led efforts to integrate Coney Island and protest discrimination

By Erica Solvig
The Cincinnati Enquirer

AVONDALE - Throughout his life, Chief Bishop William E. Crumes Jr. helped open other people's eyes to racial injustice.

The longtime pastor of the Church of the Living God in Avondale played a pivotal role in the city's civil rights movement, including leading a protest march at Coney Island to demand it open its swimming pool to African-Americans.

"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," he said about his civic work in a 1999 Enquirer article. "There are a lot of people we are not reaching. The progress is moving too slow."

Bishop Crumes died of a heart attack Sunday at Good Samaritan Hospital. He was 89.

The Louisville native's civil rights work began shortly after he became pastor of the Church of the Living God in 1948.

Over the years, he fought for issues such as integrating theaters, restaurants and other public facilities. One summer day in 1952, he and two other ministers led about 30 people, lined up one black person then one white, to the Coney Island ticket window to buy pool passes. The park sold them only to whites, but integrated the pool later that year.

In 1963, Bishop Crumes, then president of the Avondale Community Council, led an estimated 14,000 people in a march downtown to protest discrimination in education, jobs and housing.

"His work was not just felt in Cincinnati," said Rev. Ennis F. Tait, pastor of the Church of Living God, where Bishop Crumes was pastor for 51 years before retiring in 1999.

"A lot of his work was felt all around the country."

Bishop Crumes also served several positions with the Church of the Living God National Organization, and became the organization's fifth chief bishop in 1979.

"He was a really devout man of God," said his daughter, Vernita Mays-Hill of Bond Hill. "He was an upright and straightforward Christian."

Besides his daughter, he is survived by his wife of 70 years, Dorothy Crumes; brother Alonzo Crumes of Louisville; three grandchildren, Stephanie Mays-Torbert of Price Hill, Carmelita Mays of Greenbelt, Md., and Odeen Mays Jr. of Covington; nine great-grandchildren; and one great-great-grandchild.

Visitation will be 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. today, followed by a memorial service at the Church of the Living God, 434 Forest Ave. Formal services for the Church of the Living God National Organization will be held 11 a.m. Saturday.


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