By Tia Lynn Ivey
In 2008, when Barack Obama became the first African-American president of the United States of America, Oscar Crawford couldn’t believe his eyes.
“I never thought I would see that in my lifetime,” said Oscar, a 90-year-old man born and raised in Morgan County. He was also overjoyed when Fred Perriman became Madison’s first African-American mayor. “Madison made so many changes for the better since I was growing up. Back then, white people didn’t treat black people right. So, I never thought we could have a black mayor here.”
Oscar was born on a farm in 1926, in an old building he described as “no better than a barn.” Throughout his long life, he has lived through some of America’s most infamous eras in history: The Great Depression, World War II, and The Civil Rights Movement. Growing up, Oscar and his family made it by on very little, working long hours on a farm to survive.
“It was a rough time to be alive for us,” said Oscar. “Sometimes we had no food to eat. No heat. We had two small rooms but no bathroom the entire time I was growing up. In fact, I never lived in a house with its own bathroom until I was 40-years-old and built the house I am living in now.”
Oscar remembers all too well the days of legalized racism: segregated schools, separate public bathrooms and water fountains, and even being barred from downtown Madison after nightfall. He remembers the old courthouse only had one water fountain and bathroom for whites only. Medical care was also a challenge for he and his family. “There was only one black doctor in town and all the black folks had to go to him. If we went to the white doctors we would have to wait in a separate room and they would only see us after all the white patients were through, even if we got their first…And the old pharmacy in town wouldn’t fulfill the prescriptions for a black doctor, so Dr. Smith had to buy medicine wholesale elsewhere to get us medicine. It just wasn’t right.” Oscar also remembers having to address to dress all white males as “sir” even when he was a grown man talking to a little boy. “It was such a strange time that a lot of people forget how it was,” said Oscar.
It was in this context that Oscar spent his childhood, adolescence and early adulthood.
“Times were not easy,” said Oscar. Oscar quit school in the 7th grade to work more on the farm to help his family financially.
“The nearest schools blacks could go to back then was five miles away. There was no busses to get us there, so we had to walk it every single day,” remembered Oscar.
Oscar worked on a chicken farm until he was 18 and then travelled for a few years, working in various cities across the country. He spent a year in New Jersey working on a potato farm, and some time in Miami, Florida working for a railroad company, and spent some time in Ohio working before coming back to Morgan County. When he returned, he met his wife, Laura Crawford.
“We met through some good friends, got married and have been together ever since. The couple married in 1946, spending the last 70 years together. They have nine children and eight grandchildren together. All of the Crawford’s children went to school in Morgan County at Burney Street and Pearl High School before the schools became integrated in 1970. “It was a wonderful change for them when the school integrated,” said Oscar. “A lot of opportunities opened up for them.”
When the couple first settled back into Morgan County, Oscar got a job at the Mason’s farm, spraying peaches.
“I did that for 27 years,” said Oscar. After spending his entire life working on farms, Oscar set out to get a better paying job to support his growing family. He was hired in steel sheet production company in Atlanta. “I commuted there for the next 25 years,” said Oscar. “It was hard work, but you have to be willing to work hard to make something of yourself.”
After retiring from the steel plant in 1991, Oscar worked with Department of Children and Family Services (DFCS) driving people in need to their doctor appointments.
Back in 1965, Oscar and his sons built a house on Mapp Street in Madison, where Oscar and his wife still live today. “It’s been remodeled now and we added on to it over the years, but when we first built it, we bought the material from an old railroad house that went out of business. We were all so happy to finally have our own inside bathroom with a tub. That was the first time in our lives we ever had that,” said Oscar. Now the home as multiple bathrooms, a beautiful modernized kitchen with granite top counters, lovely furnishings and a well landscape yard. “We have made a good home and a good life here in Madison,” said Oscar.
“It felt good to be able to help people who needed to get to the doctors,” said Oscar. “I was glad to do it.”
Oscar’s philosophy throughout his whole life has has been to work hard and keep the faith. He joined Springfield Baptist Church when he was just 14-years-old and he been a member ever since.
“Faith is important. It helped me to keep going even when times got tough, to remember Jesus and His love, and when I was young, it kept me out of trouble. “
Oscar hopes young people today will follow his example.
“Hard work is the key,” said Oscar. “I hope young people today will work for the life they want and that all of us, all people, learn to treat each other well. That’s the future I hope for,” said Oscar.
Fred Perriman encourages all people to look to Oscar Crawford one of the best local examples hard-earned success and impeccable integrity.
“He has impressed all of us with how he made it life, “ said Perriman. “It doesn’t matter where you start from, but where you end up that counts. I hope our young people take a look at him and know that you can make it try and put in the effort. You can make it, too.”