Photo by Vicki Harris

Photo by Vicki Harris

ALBANY -- Deemed Black History Month, February is a time when the nation looks back on the contributions black Americans made over the years.

Almost five decades ago, Charles Crapps of Sylvester began making such a contribution in Southwest Georgia during the civil rights movement, one of the most turbulent times in the history of the United States.

In 1962, Crapps was a 14-year-old in his native Moultrie.

"At that time, I was working in a shoe shop downtown owned by the Shrivers," the 61-year-old said.

It was during that time that black Albany residents boycotted the city's merchants as part of the civil rights movement. That boycott, Crapps explained, resulted in Albany shoppers heading to Moultrie and additional surrounding towns for their merchandise. Thus, shops like the one a young Crapps worked in benefited.

"Abe Shriver (Crapps' then employer) told me to wait on the next customer who came in," said Crapps, who previously had not held such a responsibility in the shop.

That would place the teenager in part of his hometown's history.

"I became the first black salesperson in Moultrie," Crapps said.

It was a milestone that occurred without incident.

"I did not have one Caucasian person resist my services," Crapps said.

Not only that, but other Moultrie merchants soon also moved black employees into sales positions.

While that transition was relatively uneventful, Crapps and others in his hometown who belonged to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference would embark on their own quest for civil rights two years later.

"In 1964, we had our own demonstration," the married father of two daughters said.

That demonstration centered around the complaint that then 16-year-old Crapps and his peers made to the school board about about the library's segregation.

"If you were black, you had to go up the back stairs," Crapps recalled, "and you couldn't go in there and sit."

As a result of demonstrating, Crapps and 11 of his peers, two of whom were his siblings, were arrested.

"They put us in a sweat box," the Albany Civil Rights Institute Board president said. "There were so many of us, we couldn't sit down."

But there they stayed for three days and two nights.

"On the third day, they told me I was wanted downtown for a meeting," Crapps said, explaining that five additional detainees were also taken to the meeting.

According to the grandfather of five, that was the only time he actually felt concerned about his safety.

"I really thought they were taking me somewhere else," Crapps said.

But it turned out that the school board wanted to hear the grievances of Crapps and his peers, and they were free to go afterward.

Looking back, Crapps can see the importance of those long-ago incidents. But as a teenager, the impact he was making didn't occur to him.

"It wasn't anything that dawned on me at the time," he said.

Neither did fear of danger that was prevalent during that time.

"I just have to give my parents credit for raising me not to fear man," Crapps said.

Instead, he considered himself an average kid who played football at William Bryant High School. However, Crapps proved himself to be quite a motivated individual, even at an early age, as he rode a bicycle and constructed a contraption that made it easy to rake yards quickly.

"I would do a whole yard for 50 cents," the Sylvester resident recalled. "Back then, you could buy a lot of cookies and soft drinks for 50 cents."

That ingenuity enabled Crapps to somewhat ease the burden for his parents of a large family.

"I knew that my parents had a limited income," he said. "I knew they were doing the best they could with six children in the house."

Crapps' drive and football prowess would earn him a scholarship to what is now Albany State University, where he received a bachelor's degree in business administration. Doing so marked another milestone for Crapps, whose father worked as a sharecropper and meat packer and whose mother was a nurse.

"I was the first member of my family to graduate college," he said.

Crapps would go on to work in a career that would eventually lead to his field of human resources, a field in which he today works for the Dougherty County Board of Commissioners.

Crapps appreciates and has taken advantage of the opportunities that were unavailable to previous generations.

"I have been blessed," he said.

But Crapps does have some things he might do differently.

"If I had to do it all over again, I would be much more aggressive in speaking to the younger generation," he said, explaining that he would encourage young black Southwest Georgians to stand on their own.

For today's black teenagers, Crapps does have some sage advice.

"They need to pull up their pants and listen to individuals who have knowledge," he said.