Longtime Indiana State Rep. Bill Crawford dies

Bill Crawford
Statehouse services set for longtime state Rep. Crawford
Statehouse services set for longtime state Rep. Crawford

Former State Rep. William "Bill" Crawford (D) of Indianapolis passed away Friday. He was 79 years old. Crawford represented the 98th District from 1972-2012.

Crawford never set out to become a politician, but his life changed in 1968.
Crawford was in the Indianapolis crowd when Bobby Kennedy announced Dr. Martin Luther King had been assassinated.

"That changed the course of my life," said Crawford in a 2011 interview with WTHR's Scott Swan. "Just led me to believe that I had to translate my religion into action and as Dr. King said, to serve."

He dropped out of high school and worked at the post office before he was elected to the legislature in 1972. A Democrat, Crawford wasn't immediately embraced by his own party.

"I was considered a radical.  I had the big afro," he said.

Crawford would author many bills during his 40 years, including one of his proudest achievements.

"Having the US Supreme Court cite the fact that 13 states had taken the position to outlaw executions for mentally retarded persons who were not cognizant of what they were doing," Crawford said.

Crawford worked with six different governors, calling Evan Bayh the best.

"He opened doors for opportunity to African-Americans in the state of Indiana that is unparalleled with any administration," Crawford said.

Crawford said he wanted to be remembered as an accessible servant.

"You can walk up to me and talk to me. That doesn't mean we'll always agree but if we disagree, it'll always be in a civil way," he said.         

When Crawford retired in 2012, he was the longest-running African-American state lawmaker in the country.

Indiana Senate President Pro Tem David Long (R-Fort Wayne) made the following statement:

"I had the honor of working with Bill Crawford for a number of years, particularly during his service as Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. Bill was an honorable man, and a true fighter for his constituents and the issues he passionately believed in. We will all miss him."

Mayor Greg Ballard:

"Indianapolis lost a cherished community leader today.  For decades, Bill Crawford championed civic causes and tirelessly advocated on behalf of the people and neighborhoods that make our city great.  There is no denying how much he cared for his constituents and Indianapolis. My thoughts and prayers are with his family today."

House Speaker Brian Bosma: 

"Bill Crawford was a deeply respected colleague in the Indiana House of Representatives. A consummate gentleman and constant advocate for Central Indiana, I had the honor to serve alongside Bill for many years. As a former Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee and the longest-serving African-American legislator in our state's history, Bill leaves behind a sterling legacy of selfless public service. He will be truly missed." 

Lt. Governor Sue Ellspermann:

"Representative Bill Crawford was a great legislator and a gentle man.  It was an honor to serve with him in the Indiana House.  He leaves a strong legacy and role model for public service and will be remembered as one of Indiana's real difference makers.  My prayers are with his family as they mourn this great loss."

Sen. Joe Donnelly:

"Chairman Bill Crawford was a trailblazer and champion for Hoosiers during his four decades of public service. Bill was a great leader, and I always thought of him as a friend and a mentor. Bill distinguished himself as a thought leader on both civil and human rights. He also was a strong advocate for the working class and our children. He dedicated his life to making our state and Indianapolis a stronger, more welcoming place, and he will be missed. My thoughts and prayers are with his family." 

Statement from Bill Crawford's family:

Former Indiana State Representative William A. Crawford, whose 40-year record of service in the Indiana General Assembly brought him national acclaim as a champion for social justice and racial equality, died today at the age of 79.
Crawford retired in 2012 as the longest-serving African-American state lawmaker in the country, but the impact of his work in office went far beyond years of service.
"He was a giant among men," said House Democratic Leader Scott Pelath from Michigan City. "He was a legend, even as he lived. No one in the history of Indiana was a stronger voice for the voiceless. The echoes are everlasting. I will never forget these things. Most of all, I will remember his winning smile, which could fill and illuminate an entire room."
Crawford's commitment to public service was instilled even before he came to the Indiana House in 1972. He often commented that the 1968 assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. inspired him to get involved in the movement for equality and justice. He was elected as part of a multi-member district with the late Congresswoman Julia Carson.
Crawford was fond of using a saying from former Minnesota Senator Hubert H. Humphrey to describe his philosophy as a public servant: "The moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; and those who are in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy, and the handicapped."
Upon coming to the House, Crawford became a member of the Indiana House Ways and Means Committee, and began an involvement with fiscal matters that extended throughout his time in the Legislature. In 2002, he became the first African-American lawmaker to serve as chairman of Ways and Means. In that role, he authored three biennial state budgets.
"I wasn't really looking to break any barriers when I chose Bill to be the House Ways and Means Committee chairman," said former House Speaker B. Patrick Bauer (D-South Bend), who selected Crawford to lead Ways and Means. "He was the best person for the job and he happened to be African-American. I worked with Bill on the committee for several years when I was chair. He was highly intelligent and knew the process well. I also knew I could rely on him and that he would never let me or the state down. He was one of the greatest legislators in the state's history. 
"Bill was a real partner in getting the kind of budget our state needed, budgets with gains for education for all of Indiana's students and budgets with a conscience that included social programs benefiting our state's citizenry," continued Bauer. "Bill's legislative contributions were incredibly positive for our state and its residents. A natural leader, like Bill, comes along once in a lifetime, if you are lucky. Indiana was indeed blessed to have such a dedicated and compassionate statesman serve for so many years."
Crawford's list of accomplishments during those 40 years in the House were lengthy, but the lawmaker often referred to several as particular highlights:

  •  Securing restitution in the state budget for a man who had been wrongly convicted.
  •  Changing the make-up of the Indianapolis Public School Board to require members to be elected from specific districts, as well as at-large seats.
  • The Low Income Housing Trust Fund, which provides assistance in obtaining affordable housing.
  • The Minority Teacher's Scholarship Fund, aimed at encouraging more African-Americans and Latinos to pursue teaching as a profession.
  • Making Indiana the 13th state to prohibit the execution of people who have been diagnosed with mental disabilities, an effort that was later cited by the U.S. Supreme Court.
  • Helping fund minority health issues.
  • Co-authoring the Second Chance Act that gives people with criminal records a chance to find meaningful employment after they have paid their debt to society.

 Crawford also played a role in establishing the Indiana Black Legislative Caucus.
Away from the Statehouse, Crawford was influential in helping Indiana Black Expo rise to prominence, including helping start up a scholarship program and getting the Circle City Classic off the ground.
His involvement with the Ivy Tech Community College system was key in helping increase minority enrollment at the institutions by more than 1,000 percent.
"Bill Crawford was an incredible man, and the most influential African-American public servant leader and mentor in our state's history," said State Rep. Gregory A. Porter (D-Indianapolis). "He was a trailblazer and drum major for justice. His journey throughout life as an advocate, bridge-builder and peacemaker was second to no one. From my perspective, he was anointed and well-equipped to bring light on the disparities so many faced on issues like education, health, and housing. Bill taught us so much through example, and the things he said…'knowledge is power,' 'let the people know the facts and they shall be free,' and 'if you're not at the table, you're on the menu'…helped show us that there was a way to accomplish much for the greater good of all.  He was an educator, motivator and philosopher, and a humble, selfless, self-taught man, and I shall miss him dearly."
William A. Crawford was born January 28, 1936.
He was elected to the Indiana House of Representatives in 1972 and served 20 two-year terms before retiring in 2012. When he retired, he was the longest-serving African American state legislator in the United States.
In 2002, he became the first African American lawmaker to serve as chairman of the powerful and influential Indiana House Ways and Means Committee.
Among the awards he received during his time in office were Outstanding Freshman Democrat (1973, Indiana Broadcasters Association), Elected Legislator of the Year (1995, National Black Caucus of State Legislators), and Legislator of the Year (1996, National Black Chamber of Commerce).
He served as a delegate to the First, Second and Third National Black Political Conventions (1972, 1974 and 1976), the National Conference on the Black Agenda (1980), the National Black Leadership Summit (1982), and the Democratic National Conventions in 1984, 1988 (for Jesse Jackson) and 2008 (Barack Obama).
He was an active member of the Indiana Black Legislative Caucus, the National Black Caucus of State Legislators, Indiana Black Expo (Indianapolis chapter), Concerned Clergy, the National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations (Indianapolis chapter), and the Coca-Cola Circle City Classic (executive committee member).
He worked as Manager of Community Relations and Outreach Programs for Ivy State College, Region 8, from 1993 to 2012. From 2012 until the present day, he worked in the Marion County Treasurer's Office.
Crawford served in the U.S. Navy.
Crawford was married to Bernice. He had four children: Darren, Sr., Michael, Kim and Monica.