By Carmen M. Woodson-Wray, Gary Crusader
According to Maurice Preston, Jr. his father Maurice John Preston, Sr. was the type of man that stayed focused, was a visionary and whatever he would pursue he would accomplish. His son said, “But in all these things he put God first, the community and was an active man with a deep concern for his race. But more importantly, he was a family man.”
These are only a few of the reflections and antidotes used to describe Gary native, Maurice Preston, Sr. who passed away Wednesday, August 10 at the Jesse Brown V.A. Hospital in Chicago.
Preston was a graduate from Roosevelt High School, class of 1941. His education achievements included Tennessee State University, Roosevelt University and Indiana University Northwest. He majored in Business Administration and minored in Marketing. Preston was a veteran of World War II, who served his country in the United States Navy.
Maurice Preston Sr. was the first African American Insurance Consultant with Metropolitan Life Insurance Company located in the State of Indiana. This was accomplished with the support of the local NAACP and the Urban League. He was also recognized by Metropolitan as the first Black in the State of Indiana to sell over one million dollars of insurance. This achievement led to him becoming a member of the company’s prestigious Million Dollar Round Table. Preston retired from the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company after 25 years or more of service.
Preston was an executive board member of Heritage Institute of Arts & Technology and Board Member of the Police Civil Service Commission (Gary). His past board memberships include Images of Hope, John Will Anderson Boy’s Club, and Gary Community School Board, as well as association with Gary Planning Commission, Gary Economic Development Commission, and Gary Board of Zoning & Appeals. He was the recipient of Gary’s Frontiers Service Drum Major Award.
His civil rights activism began as a founding member of the Fair Share Organization (FSO), a direct action protest group active in Northern Indiana, including Gary, Michigan City and East Chicago in the 1950s and 1960s. The leaders of the FSO included local activist Atty. Hilbert Bradley, Rev. Julius James, Willie Bryd, Jr., David C. Mitchell and Preston.
The FSO was one of the many organizations that were a part of the civil rights movement occurring from the South to urban cities in the North. Instead of fighting legal segregation as Southern groups had done, Northern activist focused on problems such as equal access to housing and employment.
In the late 1950s, the FSO began picketing local businesses. It identified employers with few or no African American employees and demanded that they hire a certain number of Blacks. If employers refused to implement the FSO’s demand, the organization launched boycotts and pickets. Preston Sr. remained committed to civil rights throughout his life.
On July 9, 2016 Preston, Sr. traveled with his wife and son to attend the “Katie Hall Day” Ecumenical Service in Mound Bayou, Mississippi. He was a member of the Katie Hall Educational Foundation and also a member of The Hall Family. Maurice Preston Sr. was a cousin of Katie Hall Educational Foundation Board Chief Legal Counsel, Deacon-Attorney John Henry Hall, Ed. D., LL.M., and Katie Hall Educational Foundation Board members – Junifer Hall, Jacqueline D. Hall, Kristina Harris, Monica J. Hall, and Calzona J. Hall, Sr. During that trip he had the opportunity to re-visit the historic family homestead in Mound Bayou, coupled with the National Civil Rights Museum (Lorraine Motel)—the site of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s tragic 1968 assassination.
Preston Sr. was born February 22, 1922 to his parents Gladys and Machele Preston in Gary, Indiana. He was a member of the First African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church for 94 years, where his grandmother was a founder and CEO. At First AME he was a member of the Trustee Board, Usher Board No. 2, The Sons of Allen and The Chancellor Choir.
He and his wife are the proud parents of Mary Jane, Maurice J. Preston Jr., and KaSandra M. (Robert) Grace.
Preston is survived by his wife of 64 years, Jean; three children, Mary Jane, Maurice Jr., and KaSandra and their spouses; grandchildren and great grandchildren. Included are a host of lifelong extended family members and friends. Visitation was held on August 15 at the Guy & Allen Chapel. Funeral services were August 16 at First A.M.E. Church with Rev. Virgil Woods officiating. Interment was at Evergreen Memorial Park.
Attorney Barbara Bolling summed up the sentiments of many in her statement on the passing of Maurice John Preston Sr. when she said, “Mr. Preston was a wonderful man. This is a great loss to the community.”