Thursday, February 28, 2013

U.S. Post Office Named for Jesse McCrary

U.S. Post Office Named for Jesse McCrary
Story & photographs by José E. Pérez

A Miami area post office opened some 50 years ago during the Kennedy Administration has taken on special significance for South Florida’s history when the building was officially named for a pace-setting attorney, politician and civil rights activist.

The Little River Post Office at 140 NE 84th St. was dedicated to the memory of Jesse James McCrary Jr. during a ceremony in which family and friends recalled the legacy of the man who died in 2007 at age 70.

“I view this as recognition for his service to the community,” said his widow Margaret McCrary. Her husband, she said, had been “a wonderful, wonderful husband and a very dedicated and caring father.”

She was joined by the couple’s daughter his daughter Jessica McCrary Campbell and her husband Donovan Campbell for the ribbon cutting ceremony and installation of a plaque to mark the occasion. A painting of McCrary was displayed at the outdoor ceremony.

The dedication came two years after President Barack Obama signed a law enabling the renaming of the building. Congressional approval is required for naming of federal buildings. Then Congressman Kendrick Meek, D-Fla., sponsored the enabling legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives in June 2010.

Meek called McCrary “one of the outstanding barristers of our time.” His successor in Congress, Frederica Wilson praised him for “the tireless efforts” to make it possible.

McCrary was “a wonderful, wonderful local legend,” Wilson said at the dedication ceremony Friday.

He was “a brilliant man,” added Jo Ann Feindt, U.S.P.S. Vice President of Area Operations for the Southern Area.

The honor of having the post office named after McCrary is “a huge, huge tribute to the family,” said Feindt.

Born in the small town of Blitchton, Florida, McCrary graduated from Howard Academy in Ocala and attended Florida A&M University, where he obtained a bachelor’s degree in political science and a law degree. He argued cases before the U.S. Supreme Court; he did not lose any cases before the Florida Supreme Court.

H. T. Smith, a close friend and trusted colleague of McCrary’s, said that he “was one of the greatest trailblazers in civil rights.”   Smith pointed out that McCrary was responsible for “opening opportunities for Black lawyers and judges in Florida.”

He was a pioneer, as Florida’s first black assistant attorney general, and as the first black Florida secretary of state since Reconstruction and a judge for the state Industrial Claims Commission.

McCrary was also the first black lawyer to represent Miami-Dade County Public Schools, one of the largest public school systems in the country.    

“Jesse really was engaged in a lot of the cases that defended, protected, and expanding the rights of Blacks and other minorities,” said Smith.

During the ceremony, students from the Jesse J. McCrary Elementary School, 514 NW 77th St., Miami, named after him, sang a song written by music teacher Rosena Norelus, which says, in part, “We are one of the best public schools.” 

As to what will happen to the post office in a time when the U.S. Postal Service is coping with billions of dollars in deficits, Feindt promised that “we won’t be closing this post office.” In 2011, the Edison Branch Post Office was closed after almost 60 years of service.

In her remarks, Wilson quoted from a poem that McCrary (who Smith called “a spell-binding speaker”) often enjoyed reciting:  “A Bag of Tools” by R. L. Sharpe.  Also known as “Isn’t It Strange,” the poem speaks of how “to each is given a bag of tools/a shapeless mass and a Book of Rules.”  The verse closes with a choice for the reader, to be “a stumbling block or a stepping stone.”  Wilson, Meek, and others in attendance at the ceremony, all echoed the sentiment expressed by Smith.  “Jesse McCrary lived the life of a stepping stone for others.”

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