Crump developed passion for civil rights at an early age
By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook staff writer
As much as Benjamin Crump hung onto his boyhood idea of possibly playing in the NBA, it just couldn’t trump his desire to be an attorney.
“It was always in me,” he said, “an innate desire to stand up and declare your equality as a people,” Crump said.
He had aspirations to be in a courtroom fighting for the rights of others long before he became an all-county high-school basketball player in Fort Lauderdale. Crump, 47, began to dream of becoming a lawyer the day his mother explained to him what led to Black children in his elementary school finally being able to attend an integrated school.
His mother told him about former Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall’s battle in the historic case Brown vs. Board of Education in 1954. She told him how Marshall, then an attorney, argued that it was unconstitutional to have segregated schools.
“I said right then and there, I want to be like Thurgood Marshall because I want to make it better for people from my community; better for people who looked like me,” Crump said.
Today Crump is one of Tallahassee’s most successful attorneys who served at president of the National Bar Association. His reputation as one of the country’s leading civil rights advocates is known from coast to coast.
For that and a long list of accolades, Crump will be honored along with six others at the Bethel Empowerment Community Celebration Banquet. The event, hosted by Bethel Missionary Baptist Church, takes place on Sept. 7 at Donald Tucker Civic Center.
Dale Landry, president of the local chapter of the NAACP, applauds Crump’s passion for his civil right work in the courtroom. He was particularly impressed with the way Crump handled the Martin Lee Anderson case, following his death after a beating by guards at a North Florida youth detention center.
“Ben was tenacious,” Landry said. “Ben fought a great fight. He genuinely cared. It bothered him and you could have seen that.”
Crump, a 1995 FSU graduate, has argued several other landmark cases with the same passion. The seeds were planted early in his life.
While growing up in his native Lumberton, N.C, he got an up close and personal view of how different life is for Black and White children.
Crump was 9 years old when his mother moved him from the under-served school in his neighborhood to a school attended a predominantly White school. He and most other Blacks had free government lunch tickets, while some Whites bought a lunch of their liking.
One of his schoolmates purchased her lunch with a $100 bill. She later explained that it was her allowance.
Crump, who said his mother worked two jobs to make ends meet, could hardly relate.
“That just blew my mind,” he said. “I said, ‘Man, my mama would have to work almost a week to get $100.”
By the time he got to his senior year in high school, Crump was tackling issues related to the wellbeing of others as president of his class. When he came to FSU on a scholarship, he was president of the Black Student Government and also was president of the Black Law Students Association.
The stage was set for a career that propelled him to making national headlines for taking on high profile cases.
Admittedly, though, Crump said he wouldn’t have attained greatness as a lawyer without faith in a higher power.
“You understand that the person that’s responsible for your accolades and success is God,” he said. “When you’ve been blessed, you have to pass it on. I try every day to be a blessing to somebody.
“When I go in the courtroom and we win a huge case or somebody gets justice, I give all the glory to God. I never get confused and think it was me.”
Crump recently announced that he is leaving the Parks and Crump firm to become an affiliate of the Morgan and Morgan. He’ll also do work for a California-based firm, while maintaining his own office, Crump Law, in Tallahassee.
At the same time, he also will be involved with three television projects and a biopic of Marshall’s career, which will be release on Oct. 13. A day earlier, he’ll begin a season of playing himself on A&E Network’s “Search for Justice” and later this year he’ll also be featured in “Evidence of Innocence,” a forensic file show on TVOne that looks at Black and Hispanic who were wrongfully incarcerated and have been exonerated by DNA evidence.
This past April he made his debut in reality television playing himself in Fox’s “You the Jury.”
Despite the hectic pace of his work, Crump said he cherishes every minute he spends with his wife, Genae and their 4-year-old daughter.
“It’s just a real fascinated thing watching your child and spending time with your child,” he said. “It motivates me and makes me want to fight even more the next generation.”