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Rev. St. George I.B. Crosse, religious and civil rights leader, dies

The Rev. St George I.B. Crosse was a regular figure on Baltimore radio for more than two decades.
The Rev. St George I.B. Crosse was a regular figure on Baltimore radio for more than two decades. (Check with Baltimore Sun Photo)

The Rev. St. George I.B. Crosse III, an outspoken conservative pastor and civil rights activist who was the first African American to run for Baltimore sheriff and who served as an adviser to President Ronald Reagan at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and as special ambassador to his home country of Grenada, died Aug. 7 of complications from dementia at Woodholme Gardens in Pikesville.

The longtime Randallstown resident and Methodist preacher was 79.

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An imposing 6-foot-1 presence behind the pulpit who delivered impassioned — and often controversial — sermons with a booming voice in the sanctuary, on television and over the radio for years, Mr. Crosse considered himself “a servant of God first, and then of the people.”

“That’s what my life is all about,” he told The Sun in a 1984 profile. “I’m able to serve them in the church as well as in the political arena.”

While his trailblazing political campaigns to become Baltimore’s first black sheriff and the city’s first black Republican comptroller* were unsuccessful, Mr. Crosse paved the way for the African Americans who would eventually occupy those offices, said his wife, Delois Crosse of Randallstown.

“I’m proud of that,” Mrs. Crosse said. “You never know what trail you are sodding for someone else to walk down and eventually become successful.”

St. George Idris Byron Crosse III was born Sept. 16, 1939, in Grenada’s capital, St. George’s, for which he was named, to Stevenson Winston Churchill Crosse, a third-generation Methodist pastor, and Iris Ernest Thomas Crosse, a nurse. As his father moved from church to church, Mr. Crosse attended public schools in Guyana and Barbados.

With six children, and a seventh on the way, the Crosse family emigrated to the U.S. in 1957 for better education. They moved to Crisfield on the Eastern Shore, where Mr. Crosse’s father became pastor of a local Methodist church. Then 17, Mr. Crosse got a job picking strawberries for $3 a day, two bologna sandwiches and, according to his family, “all the Kool-Aid he could drink.”

He participated in sit-ins with the Congress of Racial Equality and Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee during the civil rights movement on the Eastern Shore in the early 1960s and was jailed for his activism and claimed at one point to have had a $100 Ku Klux Klan bounty placed on his head. (“It made me feel bad that that’s all they thought I was worth," he said.)

After three years of active duty and an honorable discharge from the U.S. Army, Mr. Crosse attended the University of Maryland, Eastern Shore, worked four nights a week mopping and buffing floors, and still graduated magna cum laude and valedictorian of his class with a bachelor’s degree in biology in 1964.

He was hitchhiking in May 1964 from Baltimore to Princess Anne, with plans to burn down a Methodist church from which he and other black protesters had been removed, when a Pennsylvania man named William H. Worrilow Jr. introduced him to faith, and the pair “kneeled on the side of Route 50 and asked the Lord Jesus Christ to come into my head,” Mr. Crosse said.

Mr. Crosse married the former Delois Bowman, whom he had met through his sister, Tessa Crosse, at a basketball game between their rival colleges, on Aug. 20, 1966, at Salem United Methodist Church in New York. The Crosses had two daughters in a marriage that lasted nearly 53 years.

After attending medical school for a year, Mr. Crosse switched career paths and enrolled at the University of Baltimore School of Law. He ran for sheriff of Baltimore City in 1966, during his second year of law school. When the Board of Elections rejected Mr. Crosse’s bid because he had just become a U.S. citizen, he took his case to the Court of Appeals, arguing his own case and winning the right to run — although he lost the election.

“That’s just the beginning of our journey," Mrs. Crosse said. "We had a really exciting life.”

Unsuccessful campaigns for Maryland’s 7th Congressional District in 1968 and for 41st District state delegate in 1974 did little to douse his enthusiasm for politics.

Mr. Crosse graduated from law school in 1970, but he never took the bar exam, having already begun his ministry, preaching outside Lafayette Market on Pennsylvania Avenue, at Christ Temple Church, and later at St. Matthew’s United Methodist Church. He earned master’s degrees in special education and in correctional counseling from Coppin State University in 1975, and a Master of Divinity degree from Wesley Theological Seminary in 1980.

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He founded the Society for the Advancement of Families Everywhere in 1971 to advocate against abortion, which he called “the new slavery ... an intended genocidal attack on poor people and black people, the handicapped and other minorities."

A missionary and natural evangelist, he became a pastor in the United Methodist Church in 1976.

He ran unsuccessfully against four-term Democratic comptroller Hyman Pressman in 1979, drawing more than 40,000 votes, more “than any other GOP candidate in recent Baltimore elections,” The Sun reported at the time.

He was defrocked as an ordained minister in 1995 for founding Overcomers Tabernacle Full Gospel Methodist Church, with his wife as co-pastor, without Methodist leaders’ permission, then was reinstated years later to minister at Fallston Federal Hill Charge in Harford County.

Mr. Crosse co-chaired Mr. Reagan’s Baltimore campaign in 1980 and served in several roles under the Reagan administration at HUD, most notably state manager and coordinator in Maryland and special adviser for minority programs. Mr. Crosse was named U.S. special ambassador to St. Kitts-Nevis in 1983, when the nation gained its independence from Great Britain.

He hosted a radio show on WEAA-FM for more than 22 years and was a regular guest in the 1970s and ’80s on WJZ-TV’s “Square Off” with Richard Sher, who called him “a holy man of the cloth, but a man of many, many colorful words."

“You could always count on him for a heated discussion, but with everybody smiling and shaking hands afterward,” Mr. Sher said.

A wake is scheduled for 4-8 p.m. Wednesday at Vaughn Greene Funeral Home at 8728 Liberty Road in Randallstown, and a homegoing service is scheduled for 10 a.m. Thursday at DreamLife Worship Center, 4111 Deer Park Road in Randallstown.

In addition to his wife, Mr. Crosse is survived by two daughters, Karin Haysbert of Randallstown and Liris Crosse of New York; five siblings, James Crosse of Columbus, Ga., Charis Bowling of Atlanta, Kester Crosse of Florida, Wayne Crosse of, Acworth, Ga., and Ernest Crosse of Wilmington, Del.; three grandchildren, four great-grandchildren, and many nieces, nephews and other loved ones.

Baltimore Sun research librarian Paul McCardell contributed to this article.

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