Former Rep. William (Bill) Crawford, D-Indianapolis, a 40-year veteran of the Indiana General Assembly, died Friday at the age of 79.
“To the end, Bill faced death with dignity and courage,” Crawford’s wife and children said in a statement. “He fought the good fight in sickness as he did in health, and throughout his long career as a public servant. Bill will be remembered here in Indianapolis, throughout the entire state of Indiana and this nation as a champion for the poor and disadvantaged.
Crawford – born Jan. 28, 1936 – had recently been fighting an illness but the family did not specify.
Crawford served 20 two-year terms in the Indiana House of Representatives from 1972 until 2012. Inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Crawford was known for his dedication to civil rights and equality. He was one of the forces behind the Indiana Black Expo and Indiana Black Legislative Caucus. He was also the plaintiff in the state’s first voter identification lawsuit – a case that eventually went before the Supreme Court.
“He was a giant among men,” House Democratic Leader Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, said in a statement. “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 was the first African American to serve as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, a role he took on in 2002.
“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,” Former House Speaker Pat Bauer, D-South Bend, said in a statement. “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.”
When Crawford retired in 2012 he was the longest-serving African-American state lawmaker in Indiana history.
“Bill was an honorable man, and a true fighter for his constituents and the issues he passionately believed in,” Senate President Pro Tem David Long said in a statement. “We will all miss him.”
He was the recipient of several awards including 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).
Crawford was a veteran of the U.S. Navy. He worked for Ivy Tech Community College from 1993 to 2012 where he helped raise minority enrollment by more than 1,000 percent.
Crawford and his wife, Bernice, had four children: Darren, Sr., Michael, Kim and Monica.
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