NASW Pioneers Biography Index

The National Association of Social Workers Foundation is pleased to present the NASW Social Work Pioneers®. NASW Pioneers are social workers who have explored new territories and built outposts for human services on many frontiers. Some are well known, while others are less famous outside their immediate colleagues, and the region where they live and work. But each one has made an important contribution to the social work profession, and to social policies through service, teaching, writing, research, program development, administration, or legislation.

The NASW Pioneers have paved the way for thousands of other social workers to contribute to the betterment of the human condition; and they are are role models for future generations of social workers. The NASW Foundation has made every effort to provide accurate Pioneer biographies.  Please contact us at to provide missing information, or to correct inaccurate information. It is very important to us to correctly tell these important stories and preserve our history.  Please note, an asterisk attached to a name reflects Pioneers who have passed away. All NASW Social Work Pioneers® Bios are Copyright © 2019 National Association of Social Workers Foundation. All Rights Reserved.

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Lester Blackwell Granger Photo
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 1941-1961. 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 person 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 (CSWE). 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.

Newly Inducted NASW Social Work Pioneer Hortense McClinton 2015

Nominate A New NASW Pioneer

Completed NASW Pioneer nominations can be submitted throughout the year and are reviewed at the June 2021 Pioneer Steering Committee Meeting. To be considered at the June meeting, submit your nomination package by March 31, 2021. To learn more, visit our Pioneer nomination guidelines.