Beaufort native, musician, who helped desegregate local schools dies

emoody@beaufortgazette.comMay 2, 2012 

When Craig Washington talked, everyone listened, his brother Charles said.

It was the same when he played his guitar.

One of the first black children to integrate Beaufort County schools and a jazz musician of local and regional renown, he died Tuesday at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston from complications after an allergic reaction. He was 58.

Marshels' Wright-Donaldson Home for Funerals is handling arrangements, which have not been determined. The funeral home also is helping start a memorial fund for Washington, who did not have insurance, his older brother, Rowland Washington, said.

In 1964 -- nearly a decade before full integration -- the brothers were among the blacks to desegregate Beaufort's public schools, Craig at Beaufort Elementary and Rowland at Beaufort High School.

"I remember my mother taking him to Beaufort Elementary School," Charles said. "She walked him right into the class. It was a very quiet moment. It was something to witness."

Their father, Charles, was a prominent local attorney who attended Morehouse College with Martin Luther King Jr. Their mother, Juanita, was a school teacher. They pushed the idea of their children integrating the schools.

Bucky Wall said he was 12 when he met Washington, who had an easy, friendly demeanor. Their friendship showed him black children and white children had much in common.

"He was really a bold guy and impacted a many of us," Wall said. "White guys growing up in the Jim Crow South, we didn't have a lot of exposure to black guys who were our peers. So for many of us, Craig was that first example."

When longtime friend Ian Davis met Washington in 10th grade, they were both engrossed in music and politics. They played in several bands during high school and, along with Wall, produced an alternative newspaper called The Daily Planet. The paper was funded with a Peace Corps grant, Davis said.

"Our job was to stir up the pot and make sure there was a voice for people our age, for the antiwar movement, for the desegregation movement," Wall said.

Washington was student body president and a National Merit student in high school, received a full scholarship to Morehouse, and earned a history degree, according to Davis. At Morehouse, he also practiced his guitar with local musicians and teachers. He later pursued a law degree at the University of South Carolina, but did not finish and returned to Beaufort.

Washington earned a masters in education from Wheelock College and has substituted for Beaufort County Schools for more than a decade, Davis said. Washington, who was divorced twice and had no children, also took care of his mother and an uncle during their final years, Davis said.

His schedule as a substitute left time for him to play gigs around the area solo and with artists including Tradewinds and George Sheck. Music was his passion, and he played every opportunity he could, Davis said.

"He was kind of a big personality," Davis said. "He's extremely friendly. He got along with everybody."

Craig started playing in high school and initially was self-taught, Rowland Washington said. Rowland was at college up north and feeling lonesome, so his mother sent him a guitar. He brought it back home to South Carolina, left it when he returned to school and Craig took it up.

"He's a great musician," Rowland Washington said. "He actually wrote a book, a mathematical book that explains guitar music. He was a heavy guy, a brilliant person."

Related content

  1. Craig Washington obituary
  2. Brothers made history in 1964 as first black students at Beaufort High
  3. Desegregating Beaufort: A look back 50 years after Brown v. Board

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