Law school renamed after Florida civil rights attorney Ben Crump
Ben Crump’s career intertwines with some of the most hotly contested episodes in recent U.S. history.
A South Florida school has become only the second law school in the nation to bear the name of a Black attorney, and the first named after a practicing attorney. The first was the Thurgood Marshall School of Law, a part of Texas Southern University in Houston. The second is now The Benjamin L. Crump College of Law at St. Thomas University in Miami Gardens.
The naming reflects Crump’s work over more than a decade and a half on behalf of Black people who have been killed by police officers, often while they were unarmed.
“Lebron James broke the NBA scoring record last night, and I’m sure Lebron feels like the luckiest man on the face of the earth today,” attorney Crump declared at the dedication ceremony. “But I want you all to know that I feel like I’m the most blessed man on the face of the earth today.”
Crump’s career intertwines with some of the most hotly contested episodes in recent U.S. history. He has given legal representation to the family of Miami Gardens teenager Trayvon Martin, and to families of a laundry list of names that have become pillars of calls to end violence against Black Americans.
He has represented the families of Michael Brown, of Ferguson, Missouri; George Floyd of Minneapolis; Breonna Taylor In Louisville; and most recently he is representing the family of Tyre Nichols, who died in January after being beaten by police in Memphis.
Crump’s civil rights career started in earnest in 2006, after a Black teenager called Martin Lee Anderson died after he was beaten by guards at a juvenile detention facility in Florida. The officers who beat Anderson were acquitted of all criminal charges, but Crump won a $5 million civil suit against the state. The case also prompted Florida to close all of its juvenile boot camps.
Many of Crump’s cases have arisen in Florida, where he has lived since childhood. He went to high school in Plantation in Broward County, and has lived in Tallahassee since graduating from Florida State University and receiving his law degree from FSU College of Law in the early 1990s.
Crump played a key role in pressuring prosecutors to press charges against Palm Beach Gardens officer Nouman Raja for shooting and killing musician Corey Jones in 2015, after Jones’ car broke down on a highway. Ultimately, Raja was sentenced to 25 years in prison over the incident, the first time in almost 30 years that a Florida police officer was sentenced for an on-duty shooting.
Jones was waiting for a tow truck.
“They will know that Ben Crump stood tall for justice,” declared Rev. Dr. R.B. Holmes Jr., Crump's pastor at Bethel Missionary Baptist Church in Tallahassee. “Here we stand to honor your name, here we stand to give your praise, here we stand to thank you for the greatest lawyer you sent in our lifetime.”
The case that brought Crump to the foreground of perhaps the most prominent and polarizing civil rights battle of the 2000s was his representation of the family of Trayvon Martin, the Miami Gardens teen who was shot and killed by self-appointed neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman. Police initially did not arrest Zimmerman for the incident, but Crump pressed police to charge him with murder, and they did.
Zimmerman ultimately beat the charges in court, but the movement known as Black Lives Matter was born of the incident and national attention it provoked.
His prominent presence at the heart of the movement has led some to dub him “Black America’s Attorney General.”
But that role has not come without criticism. Far-right activist Candace Owens has accused Crump of being a “race hustler” who drums up resentment in the Black community for professional gain.
“It’s become a business,” Owens said on Fox News. “Race has become a business. Keeping racial issues alive as a business in America. It's Al Sharpton yesterday, Jesse Jackson tomorrow, Ben Crump today.”
Yet many of the cases where Crump has represented families have drawn bipartisan, across-the-board support for his cause. Crump represented the family of George Floyd, a Black man who was murdered by a Minneapolis police officer in 2020. He is also currently representing the family of Tyre Nichols, who was beaten to death by Memphis police officers in January 2023.
Five officers have been criminally charged in the Nichols case, a rarity. Several others have been relieved of duty or disciplined. During the State of the Union address this week, President Biden called attention to Nichols’ parents in attendance, and members of both major parties gave the parents a standing ovation in support of the fight for justice in their case.
Nichols’ parents were present for the dedication ceremony Wednesday in Miami Gardens, along with many other families he has represented over the years.
One of the strongest voices who spoke in support of Crump at the dedication ceremony was that of Armstrong Williams, a nationally syndicated Black conservative broadcaster and columnist.
“Benjamin Crump has fearlessly used his expertise in the law to advance the cause of justice. That’s not liberal, that’s not conservative. That’s not left, that’s not right. That is what morality calls us to do,” declared Williams. “Morality comes from God and not from man. Freedom comes from God and not from men. His calling is a moral one.”
The ceremony was punctuated by three donations to the newly renamed law school. The Black Promoters Collective, a live music promoters group, gave a donation of $1 million. Ben Crump Law, Crump’s firm, donated $1 million as well. And an anonymous donor gave $1.5 million to the school.
St. Thomas University president David Armstrong said the day marked an “historic day” for the university, especially for advancing the goal of ensuring more Black men are trained to become lawyers at the newly renamed school.
Speaking over applause, Crump shared his philosophy of law, a philosophy that he said goes back to his legal hero, Thurgood Marshall, who was a civil rights attorney and activist before becoming a U.S. Supreme Court Justice.
“We have to make the law matter for all of us, the least of us. If the law doesn’t protect the least of us then it doesn’t protect any of us,” said Crump. “We together, brothers and sisters, have to make it equal justice under the law.”