CRAYTON, LEROY, (27 July 1900-10 Oct. 1963), an AFRICAN AMERICAN business and civic leader, was born in Adger, Alabama, a mining town outside Birmingham. As a child he worked in a shoeshine shop, a grocery store, and a cleaning and pressing plant. In 1914 he enrolled in Tuskegee Institute. His family moved to the CENTRAL neighborhood in Cleveland in 1917. While a student at CENTRAL HIGH SCHOOL, Crayton worked in a barbershop as a shoeshine. After graduation in 1922, he attended Ohio State University for three years, paying for his education by selling mail-order shoes. After working as a traveling salesman and then sales manager for a Pittsburgh company Crayton returned to Cleveland in 1930.
In 1933 he bought a grocery store at Cedar Ave. and E. 100th St., where he began making pork sausage from his grandmother’s recipe. In 1937 he sold the store and launched the Crayton’s Southern Sausage Co. in a rear building. Within a year his operation had outgrown the store, so he opened a factory on Quincy Ave. By 1939, Crayton’s Breakfast Bell sausage and smoked sausage were distributed to hundreds of meat markets and grocery stores in Cleveland and other Ohio cities. In 1940, Crayton started making “Brown Girl” bread in the same facility, but hostility from white bakeries and the loss of his bakers to war service led him to abandon this venture. Crayton’s Southern Sausage Co. continued to expand, incorporating in 1947 and adding branch offices and plants in Pittsburgh and Baltimore. In 1953 Crayton built a second Cleveland facility at 2748 E. 53rd St. in the newly announced Gladstone (Area O) urban renewal area in 1954 to supply additional states. It was the city’s largest black-owned manufacturing facility at that time. Crayton named CHARLES P. LUCAS, SR., formerly the secretary of the local NAACP branch, as president and baseball star Jackie Robinson vice president. After a trip to Nigeria in 1963, Crayton became interested in mentoring Africans in business pursuits, but he died soon after. His estate was valued at more than $1 million, making him one of the wealthiest African Americans in the city’s history up to that time. After Crayton’s death, longtime employee Nancy S. Stovall became president of the company, which distributed its sausage to more than 5,000 outlets in five states. In 1967 the Gladstone plant tripled in size. In 1978, Glenco Enterprises, a black investment syndicate, led by Dr. Lewis F. Wright, Jr., and formed under the auspices of the Minority Enterprise Small Business Investment Companies, bought the Crayton’s operation. They invested in new machinery and the company’s first advertising campaign and turned toward supplying school lunches, but these moves strained finances, and the company closed in 1982.
Crayton served as chairman of the housing committee in a Cleveland Branch of the NAACP and as president of the Progressive Business Alliance and in the early 1940s. He was an active supporter of the FUTURE OUTLOOK LEAGUE, Cleveland office of the National Urban League, and Cedar Branch YMCA. In 1951, he became the first African American invited to membership in the Baltimore Association of Commerce. Crayton married Mabel E. Duggins in 1930. They had a son, Roderick Levy. The couple divorced in 1952. Crayton married Martha Stafford later that year, and they divorced in 1962. They had one son, Leroy Stafford. Crayton died in Cleveland and was buried at Highland Park Cemetery.