NASW Foundation National Programs
NASW Social Work Pioneers®
Lester Blackwell Granger (1897-1976)
Lester Blackwell Granger introduced civil rights to the social work agenda as a national and international issue. He focused attention and advocacy energy on the goal of equal opportunity and justice for all people of color, even while focusing on the condition of black people in the United States. He is credited with leading the development of unions among black workers as well as integrating white unions. He led the integration of black workers in defense industries and the beginnings Of integration in the military services during World War II.
Born in Newport News in 1897, he was a graduate of Dartmouth College and took postgraduate work at New York University and studied at the New York School of Social Work His career in social work began in 1922 as an extension worker in Bordentown. He also at one time was secretary on negro welfare of the Welfare Council of New York City.
He joined the National Urban League's workers educational section from 1934 to 1938, served as assistant executive secretary in 1940-1941 and as executive director from 1941 to 1961. Mr. Granger had been a member of the President's Committee on Equal Opportunity in the Arm Forces and of the Federal Advisory Council on Employment Security, serving at one time as its chairman.
He had been a special consultant to Navy Secretaries James V. Forrestal and Charles S. Thomas and was instrumental in drawing up the Navy's post-World War II integration program and later helping solve problems arising from the Navy's abolishing segregation. For his contributions, Mr. Granger was awarded the Navy Medal for Distinguished Service and the President's Medal for Merit.
He was the first black to serve as President of the National Conference of Social Work and the International Conference for Social Work. He also had been vice president of the American Association of Social Workers, honorary president of the International Council on Social Welfare and a member of the board of directors of the Council on Social Work Education. He was president of one of the seven organizations that merged to form NASW.
After retiring from the National Urban League, he served for a number of years as a visiting professor of sociology at Princeton, Loyola, Tulane and Dillard Universities.