Martin family lawyer known for civil rights cases

Associated Press Modified: March 30, 2012 at 2:46 am •  Published: March 30, 2012
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Crump and his law partner, Daryl Parks, are Tallahassee-based personal injury attorneys who primarily handle wrongful death and negligence cases. But their everyday work often involves civil rights issues.

"Daryl and Ben look at things in a broader perspective," said James Messer, a Tallahassee attorney who serves on the board of the Tallahassee Bar Association with Crump. "While there may be a wrongful death issue, it involves, in their eyes, more than anything a civil rights cause ... (Crump) has a passion for issues that have something to do with civil rights violations."

Crump's advocacy on behalf of Martin's family has gotten the attention of established civil rights leaders. Both Sharpton and Jesse Jackson flew down to Sanford to participate in rallies and a meeting before the Sanford city commission.

"He has integrity, smarts and an uncanny ability," Jackson said about Crump. "He is not flashy. He is just kind of a basic, old, solid-thinking, country lawyer."

Crump gets the "country" part from growing up in Lumberton, N.C., a tiny town not far from Fort Bragg. His mother held down two jobs as a factory worker and hotel housekeeper. His biological father was a soldier at Fort Bragg. He was raised by his mother and her high school sweetheart who later became her husband. Crump regards him as his father. The oldest of nine siblings and step-siblings, Crump grew up in an extended family of cousins, uncles and aunts headed by his beloved great-grandmother, Mittie.

"She had a switch in her hand when we came home from school. She would ask what we learned in school that day, and she used that switch to enforce the importance of that question," Crump said of his great-grandmother.

Crump would spend all day every Sunday in Pentecostal church, often missing the chance to watch his Dallas Cowboys play on television. The influence of the church is visible in his public speeches when he often sounds more like a preacher than a lawyer. His interest in civil rights stems from attending segregated schools until he was in fifth grade.

"It was a situation to me, that I said, 'Why do people on that side of the tracks have it so much better than people on our side of the tracks?'" he said.

When Crump was in high school, his mother sent him to Fort Lauderdale to live with the man he regarded as his father so he could have a male influence and be exposed to the culture that the bigger city offered.

He attended college and law school and Florida State University, where he met Parks, his future law partner. In his personal statement for law school, he said his hero was Thurgood Marshall, the U.S. Supreme Court's first black justice. After graduating, Parks and Crump formed their own law firm, Tallahassee-based, Parks and Crump.

Crump dodges the question of how, and if, he is being compensated by Trayvon Martin's parents.

"You do it because it's the right thing to do," he said. "As long as you make your goal to do right and do good, all of the money and financial material stuff will come."