John Crawford, 80
Co-founded West Side Organization, protected Dr. King in ’66
Rev. John H. Crawford Jr., 80, a towering West Side civil rights advocate who mobilized his militant passion for African-American advancement on a variety of fronts, including co-founder of the influential West Side Organization and as a volunteer bodyguard for Martin Luther King Jr. when King fought for housing rights in Chicago, died on Feb. 1, 2020.
Born July 8, 1939 to John Henry and Essie Crawford in Round Pond, Arkansas, he was the oldest of 14 children. After the family moved to Chicago, Crawford enrolled at Dunbar High School and later joined the U.S. Army. He served as a medic and received honors.
Crawford’s struggles with racism, poverty and underemployment as a young man in Chicago informed his work as a fearless activist and organic leader who believed in bottom-up economic and political power.
In the late 1950s, Crawford went to jail twice, once for a “minor charge” and another time for “breaking into a dry cleaner,” according to William W. Ellis’ 1969 White Ethics and Black Power: The Emergence of the West Side Organization. During this time, Crawford also struggled to hold down a string of jobs — from operating a punch-press to working in a pickle factory.
In 1964, Crawford, known as “Big John,” banded together with Chester Robinson, William Darden and William Clark to found the West Side Organization — a brotherhood “to assist the unemployed, underemployed and unemployable on the West Side of Chicago,” according to a synopsis of the organization provided during a 1967 Congressional hearing on housing legislation.
When Dr. King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference descended on Chicago in the summer of 1966 to fight against housing segregation, they asked the WSO to participate in organizing marches like the one in Marquette Park, where King was pelted with bricks and other objects thrown by whites, according to Ellis. Crawford, a strapping Army veteran who boxed in prison, volunteered to be King’s bodyguard whenever the civil rights leader visited Chicago.
John Crawford was the husband of Beulah White, whom he married in 1961. Their children are Jonathan T. Crawford; Zina Crawford-Lott (James); Yvonne C. Burston (Archie); Malcolm S. Crawford (Stacia); and Cheryle Robinson (Ujana); and he was the father of two other sons, LeJon Crawford and Vernon Crawford.
Rev. Crawford married Patty Stewart in 1995 and added five children to his life: Djwan, who preceded him in death; Jackie, Leah, Ziara Copper (Ted), and Jonathan McDonald. In addition, there were 25 grandchildren, 12 great-grandchildren (one on the way) and one great-great-grandson. He also had two Godsons; Derrick Reeves and Solomon Robinson; was the brother of Arnold (Beatrice) and Kenneth Crawford (Vinnie), Dorothy, Erna (Henry), Cheryle (Jesse) and Joan (Johnnie); the brother-in-law of Thomas Stewart and sister-in-law of Irma (Grant) Dobson; the uncle of many nieces, nephews, and cousins; and had a host of friends and other loved ones.
He was the oldest of 14 children. Six brothers and one sister all preceded him in death: Vernon, Herman, Lester, Harold, Menard, Cordell Crawford, and Carolyn Johnson (Henry).
A celebration of life was held on Feb. 15 at Healing Temple Church of God in Christ. Interment took place on Feb. 17 at Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery in Elwood.
Arrangements were handled by W.W. Jackson Funeral Home.