Lester Blackwell Granger, 79, the retired executive director of the National Urban League, died January 9 in Alexandria, La. Les was the League’s director from 1941 until 1961. His work to integrate blacks during World War II was praised by two Presidents, and the national civil rights organization grew substantially under his direction.
Les, a professional social worker, once described the black Americans' goals as "the right to work, the right to vote, the right to physical safety, and the right to dignity and self respect." The third executive director of the league which was founded in 1910, he was born in Newport News, Va. His father, William Randolph Granger, was a ships cabin boy from Barbados who worked his way through Bucknell University and the University of Vermont to earn a medical degree. His mother, the former Mary L. Turpin, was a schoolteacher.
Les was the only one of six sons not to pursue a career in either medicine or law. After serving in the Army in France during World War I with the 92nd Infantry Division as a second lieutenant he went to work in 1919 for the New Jersey Urban League. He then taught school in North Carolina and New Jersey until 1934 when he went to work for the National Urban League in New York City.
World War II came seven years later, after his appointment as executive director, and during it he served as a special assistant to the Secretary of the Navy, traveling more than 60,000 miles. He was awarded the Navy's highest civilian decoration, the Distinguished Civilian Service Award. President Harry Truman, upon presenting Les with the President's Medal of Merit, said Mr. Granger had contributed more than any other person to the effective utilization of Negro personnel in the service. President Eisenhower described him in 1961 as "a man of the highest character and integrity." Lee was responsible for several major innovations within the league, including the "Litchpin Pilot Placement Project" that put blacks into significant jobs for the first time. The number of league affiliates grew from 41 to 63 during his tenure, the full-time staff increased from 216 to 456, and the annual budget went from S6OO.0O0 to $4.5 million.
Les worked within the system but was not hesitant to speak out against what he saw as its abuses. "We have fought against the attempt in the war industry to extend the physical segregation of negro workers from whites," he wrote. And criticizing a Navy "experiment" in the same units, Les once said: "The league sees no reason why the use of negro sailors. Marines, and Coast Guard members should be an 'experiment' in a democracy. Neither does the league approve the over-timid and frequently contradictory policies which the Navy has instituted." The National Urban League's current executive director, Vernon E. Jordan Jr. said, "The contributions Mr. Granger made to the League and the nation were immense and helped alter the course of America. He worked effectively to institute opportunities for blacks when fair employment practices were regarded as a radical idea and he opened countless doors."
The funeral service was held January 13 in the Christ Chapel of the huge Riverside Church. President Dwight and Peg attended as did Chet Hulbert. Dwight said there about 300 people present. It was a most impressive ceremony and the assembled people were equally impressive. (The Roar of November 21, 1973 would be worth rereading for a more personal and detailed summary of Les' career and philosophy than space permits here.) Les was a trustee of St. Paul's College, Virginia, from 1960-1970. He was a member of the National Conference of Social Workers and president 1949-51 and of the International Conference of Social Workers and president from 1960-64.
Les was preceded at Dartmouth by two brothers, William R.' 15 and Leo Y.' 16. The Grangers were all track men and they helped earn their way by running a cleaning and pressing service. William and Leo finished the two-year course at Dartmouth Medical School and went on to become physicians. Scholastically Les won honorable mention in English and attained the Third Honor Group on his Junior year. He was followed by two more brothers at Dartmouth, Lloyd M. '20 and Carl V. '23. This made five out of six Granger brothers who attended Dartmouth. Les had no children and seems to have left no close relatives.
It appears to be inescapable after reading the foregoing recital of his myriad endeavors and accomplishments that Les was, as some have said, the greatest man in our Class.