William Demosthenes Crum: Caused an Uproar When Appointed Collector of Customs in Charleston, SC

0 Posted by - April 19, 2023 - AGE OF OBAMA, History, LATEST POSTS

William Demosthenes Crum was a renowned physician who also served as a collector of customs in Charleston, SC, a position which gave him authority over white townsmen.

Crum was the son of a white father and free black mother. He was born in 1859 and attended school in the North. He married Ellen Craft, the daughter of William and Ellen Craft the fugitive slaves who fled to England and wrote the book, Running a Thousand Miles for Freedom.

Dr. Crum assisted Reverend William Henry Heard in organizing protests over the distribution of relief funds after the earthquake. He often spoke to groups about the dangers of fevers and other infectious diseases. In 1902, Dr. Crum was appointed by President Theodore Roosevelt as a collector of customs in Charleston, a post that gave him authority over white men.

A storm of controversy erupted, and the fight over his confirmation became one of the most significant battles of Roosevelt’s presidency. U. S. Senator Ben Tillman blustered, “We still have guns and ropes in the South.” James C. Hemphill, the editor of the Charleston News and Courier, wrote that Crum “is a colored man and that in itself ought to bar him from office.” Roosevelt resorted to a technicality, first to put Crum in office and then to keep him there–he made the appointment during a congressional recess, removing the need for Senate approval.

Once Roosevelt was out of office, the opportunity for Dr. Crum closed. President William Taft became president in 1909 and refused to allow Crum to continue his position as collector of the customs. Instead, Taft proposed that Crum be made consul general to Liberia, a position traditionally given to a black politician. Crum accepted the job and moved to Monrovia with his wife. He had always been interested in infectious diseases, and he treated some of his colleagues for “African fever.”

In September 1912, Dr. Crum himself contracted African fever and returned to the United States, where he could get better medical care. Shortly after he reached Charleston, Dr. Crum died.




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