HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – Local legend James Crawford knew the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and has impacted the lives of countless athletes across north Alabama through his career in sports.
“I could tell you another whole book of things that happened and I just left it to God,” Crawford said.
Crawford has lived in the Edmonton Heights neighborhood, in Huntsville, most of his life.
He says he grew up with friends of multiple races and economic backgrounds.
Crawford’s calm, cool and humble demeanor are some of the qualities he says grabbed the attention of a young Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
There used to be a house in Edmonton Heights where Dr. King Jr. stayed and recruited leaders for Huntsville sit-ins.
Crawford was recruited by Dr. King Jr. in the late 1950s.
“I think this was Woolworth,” Crawford said. “The manager, one of the girls who was with us, her glasses fell on the floor and the manager stepped on them, you know just stomped them.”
Crawford coached one of the first desegregated sports teams in Alabama – one of his many accomplishments.
“I’ve had professional basketball players play for me, I’ve had professional football players play for me, I’ve had professional baseball players,” he said. “I would hope that the influence has been good because they helped my influence too.”
It was always normal for Crawford to have white and black players on the same team.
The sports legend says he ran into trouble when he’d go to other parts of Alabama – one time a sheriff in the Montgomery area wouldn’t let his team sleep at a hotel before a game.
Crawford’s youngest daughter says she remembers their vehicle being broken down on an Alabama highway once. She says it appeared two semi-trucks were trying to crush their vehicle with them in it when a van full of “hippy newspaper salesmen from all walks of life” gave them a ride back to Huntsville.
Peaceful means of social change is more effective than violence – always, Crawford says.
“It never was a ‘you’ve got to force something to happen,’ because I used to think that when you try to force something to happen, it doesn’t happen as smoothly, that’s what I used to think and I still think that right now.”
James Crawford played for the Denver Broncos as a free agent in the 1960s.
He has a city park named after him and is a member of the Huntsville Madison County Athletic Hall of Fame.