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Williams, Hosea Lorenzo 1926–

Hosea Lorenzo Williams 1926

Civil rights activist, politician

At a Glance

Joined Civil Rights Movement

Ran for Political Office

Retired from Politics

Sources

Hosea Williamsresearch chemist, ordained minister, and politicianis best known for his activities during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, when he worked closely with Martin Luther King, Jr. Williams, whom King called my [Cuban strategist Fidel] Castro, supervised voter registration in hostile areas, led many dangerous marches, and was arrested more than 100 times. His wife and two of his children were also arrested during civil rights campaigns. On March 7,1965, Williams led the infamous Bloody Sunday march in Alabama, when the demonstrators were brutally beaten by state troopers. A 1965 issue of Ebony magazine recognized Williams as always on hand when the going is rough.

After King was assassinated, Williams became involved in mainstream politics, as a state representative for Georgia (1974-85), Atlanta city councillor (1985-90), and DeKalb [Georgia] county commissioner (1990-94). Throughout his political career, he continued to fight for civil rights, using Kings method of direct action. In 1987, Williams led a march to all-white Forsyth County, Georgia, where counter-demonstrators threw rocks and bottles while shouting racial slurs. In 1996, Williams organized a march to the state capitol to protest the current Georgia flag, which incorporates the Confederate flag.

Williams, a controversial figure, has always maintained a high public profile, though not all the publicity has been positive. He has been arrested more than 30 times for traffic offenses, and twice has been sentenced to jail terms for leaving the scene of an accident. Largely because of his discipleship under Dr. King, and partly because of his knack for being outrageous, Mr. Williams has remained in the flash and glow of the news media for 30 years, Bert Roughton, Jr. wrote in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (AJC). The same publication quoted David J. Garrow, who wrote a Pulitzer Prize-winning history of the Civil Rights movement, as saying, The problem is, Hoseas post-1968 credibility has not developed well.

Hosea Williams was born on January 5, 1926, in Attapulgus, Georgia. His mother, a blind woman, died giving birth to Williamss sister, leaving the children to be raised by Turner Williams, their grandfather. As a child, Williams never knew his father, who was also blind; the two met for the first time once Williams was fully grown.

At the age of 14, Williams left the farm where he had been raised, walking with a friend to Tallahassee, where

At a Glance

Born on January 5, 1926, in Attapulgus, Georgia; died on November 16, 2000 in Atlanta; married Juanita Terry; children: Barbara, Elizabeth, Hosea II, Andre, Yolanda, and four adopted children. Education: Morris Brown College, B.A.; Atlanta University, M.S. Religion: Protestant.

Career: Ordained clergyman; science teacher, 1951-52; U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, research chemist, 1952-63; Chatham County Crusader, publisher, 1961-63; SCLC, special projects director, 1963-70, national program dir., 1967-69, regional vice president, 1970-71; natl. executive dir., 1969-71, 1977-79; Poor Peoples Union of America, organizer, 1973; Martin Luther King Jr. Peoples Church of Love, leader, 1973-; Southeast Chemical Manufacturing and Distributing Co., founder, 1976. Georgia State representative, 1974-85; Atlanta City councillor, 1985-90; De Kalb County commissioner, 1990-94.

Memberships: Phi Beta Sigma, National Order of Elks and Free and Accepted Masons, SCLC, NAACP, Disabled American Veterans, Veterans of Foreign Wars, American Legion, Natl. Science Society, Georgias Voter League, Amer. Chemistry Soc, Natl. Committee of Black Churchmen, Natl. Democratic Party.

Awards: Most Courageous Leadership in the Freedom Movement Award, NAACP, 1960-61; Ten Years of Satisfactory Service Award, U.S. Dept of Agriculture, 1961; Cause of Freedom in the Tradition of True Democracy, GA State-wide Registration Committee and SCLC, 1963; SCLC National Affiliate of the Year Award, National SCLC Conf., 1963; Chapter of the Year Award, Atlanta Chapter SCLC, 1973; Civil Rights Leader of the Year Award, Black Media Inc., 1975; Community Action Agency Award, Tuskegee, Ala., 1976; Essence Award, Essence Magazine, 2000.

he got a job washing dishes in a bus station. Three years later, he returned to his grandparents farm and unsuccessfully tried running it, but the farm failed. When World War II began, he enlisted in the U.S. Army, eventually becoming staff sergeant. He was wounded by shrapnel in Germany and spent 13 months recuperating in a hospital in England.

While racism was less blatant in the United States military and in Europe, Williams was forcibly reminded of the color line once he returned to the South. On his way back to Georgia, he was beaten up after he drank from a white water fountain in a bus station. In Georgia, Williams returned to school, earning his high school diploma when he was 23. He went on to study chemistry at Morris Brown College in Atlanta. After graduating with a B.A. at the age of 27, he taught science at a segregated high school in Douglasville, Georgia. In 1952, he took a job as a research chemist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Savannah, Georgia, a job he held until 1963. During that time, he also became an ordained minister. In the early 1950s, Williams married Juanita Terry. The couple would have five children of their ownBarbara Jean, Elizabeth LaCenia, Hosea Lorenzo Williams II, Andre Jerome, and Yolanda Feliciaas well as four adopted children.

Joined Civil Rights Movement

In 1952, Williams attended his first meeting of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Though Savannah had a large population of educated, middle-class blacks, it was as segregated as any other city in the South. Williams later recalled the day he took his two young sons to a drugstore and had to explain that they could not sit at the soda fountain and have a Coke. According to Williams, this incident inspired him to join the struggle for civil rights.

As a member of Savannahs NAACP, Williams became known for his skill in grass-roots organization. Later, he became an active member of Martin Luther Kings Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), which stressed nonviolent protest. According to Civil Rights: A Current Guide, the SCLCs first major civil rights campaign began in 1960, when King called on blacks to begin mass violation of immoral laws. That year, Williams organized an economic boycott by blacks in Savannah, after training his volunteers in non-violent tactics. He also served his first jail term35 days.

The civil rights struggle was more violent in Savannah than in other Georgia cities, such as Atlanta or Albany. According to Donald L. Grant, author of The WayIt Was in the South, one reason for the militant civil rights movement in Savannah was its leader, Hosea Williams. Grant also quoted Andrew Young, one of the more conservative members of the SCLC, as once having said about him, Hosea could scare the sheet off a Klansman. In 1962, at the Atlanta convention of the NAACP, Williamss candidacy for the national board of directors was vetoed because he was too militant. As a result, Williams left the NAACP, becoming active in the SCLC.

While lunch counters in Savannah were desegregated in the 1961, hotels, motels, theaters, and restaurants were not. In the summer of 1963, Williams led the Chatham County Crusade for Voterswhich was affiliated with the SCLCto push for total desegregation. That summer, he was arrested again after a white woman complained that the demonstrations made her fear for her life and kept her awake at night. Other whites stepped forward to press charges, so that Williamss bond came to #35,000. Williams remained in jail for 65 daysat that time, the longest continuous stretch of any movement leaderuntil bailed out by the president of a local bank.

Influential whites then formed a Committee of 100 and began accompanying blacks to segregated establishments, which soon changed their policies. Savannah began integrating its schools that fall. The next year, when King visited Savannah, he declared it to be the most desegregated city in the South. Williams finally returned to the drugstore and bought his sons their Cokes. According to The Way It Was in the South, Williams later recalled, That was one of the happiest days of my life.

In 1963, Williams moved to Atlanta to join the SCLC, holding the position of special projects director until 1970. He led marches, supervised voter registration, and was arrested more than 100 times. Among the SCLC leaders, Williams was one of the strongest supporters of direct action. He was known as Kings field general; Williams was quoted in The Way It Was in the South as saying that his job was to go out among black people who were too scared to death and get them jumping up, marching around, and filling up the jails.

On March 7, 1965, Williams and 600 followers began a trek from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, to protest segregationan event that would later be called the Bloody Sunday march. The demonstrators got no further than the Edmund Pettus Bridge outside Selma. There, Alabama state troopers set upon them, beating the marchers with clubs and firing tear gas canisters into the crowd. Two weeks later, King led thousands of marchers to Montgomery, and President Lyndon B. Johnson appeared on national television to support them. That was one of the greatest triumphs of the civil rights movement, Williams later told the AJC. Thats when we crushed the mightiest of the mighty forces of racism. He would make the Bloody Sunday march again, 35 years later, with President Bill Clinton to commemorate the anniversary.

In April of 1968, Williams was with a group of activists staying at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis. As he recalled, he was turning the key to his room just as he heard a gunshot ring out. The shot had killed King, who was standing on a balcony just above him. One of Kings feet was sticking through the railing above my head. When I saw all the policemen come running a few minutes later, I was trying to take molecules from the sky to make a gun. Wanted to kill [the world], he was quoted as saying in the AJC.

After Kings death, Williams led the SCLC to consider the problems of poverty as well as race. He organized soup lines, clothing centers, and a legal clinic. In 1971, Williams represented the SCLC on a Worldwide Brotherhood Tour, visiting Africa, India, Vietnam, Hong Kong, and China. He held a number of positions in the SCLC over the years, including national program director (1967-69) regional vice president (1970-71), and executive director (1969-71, 1977-79).

Ran for Political Office

Williams was one of the first civil rights leaders to try to enter politics. In 1968, he ran unsuccessfully for the Georgia House of Representatives as a Democrat. In 1970, he switched parties, running for secretary of state of Georgia as a Republican, but lost again. Changing back to the Democratic party, Williams lost the primary for the U.S. Senator from Georgia in 1972 and the primary for mayor of Atlanta in 1973. Williams finally succeeded in politics in 1974, when he was elected to the Georgia General Assembly, serving southeast Atlanta. Williams would hold the position of senator until 1985, when his wife, Juanita, succeeded him in the state legislature.

Meanwhile, Williams continued to agitate for civil rights. In 1970, Williams led a 110-mile march against repression from Perry, Georgia to Atlanta, as a protest against President Nixon and his administration. During the march, Williams called for black power, a phrase that had been attacked by King, who wanted the civil rights movement to remain nonviolent. Williams later qualified his statement, saying that black power meant self-respect, not violence.

Also in 1970, Williams helped organize a church program to feed 200 homeless men on Thanksgiving. By the late 1990s, Williamss Feed the Hungry program had grown so that each year up to 45,000 were fed on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Martin Luther Kings birthday. In 2000, Essence magazine would honor Williams with the Essence Award for continuing the Feed the Hungry program for 30 years. After his death, record company executive and rapper, Sean P. Diddy Combs would be tapped to continue the tradition for Thanksgiving 2000. Popeyes Chicken also helped by donating 600 turkeys.

In 1972, Williams established the Martin Luther King, Jr. Peoples Church of Love, Inc., as well as the Poor Peoples Union of America. In 1976, Williams founded Southeast Chemical Manufacturing and Distributing Company, which he built into a substantial business as he pursued a political career in Atlanta. By 1991, Williams had founded three more chemical companies: A-l Sanitary Chemicals and Supplies, Kingwell Chemical Corp., and Terry Enterprises.

In 1977, Williams was chosen as executive director of the SCLC. Two years later, the board fired him, claiming that he was spending too much time on Atlantas problems, rather than national issues. Williams remained head of the Metro Atlanta SCLC chapter and formed a shortlived Martin Luther King Jr. National Coalition to Save the SCLC. According to The Way It Was in the South, Williams kept a high public persona but was considered an embarrassment by much of Atlantas civil rights establishment.

In politics, as in the civil rights movement, Williams was not afraid to hold controversial positions. He publicly endorsed Ronald Reagan for president in 1980, faulting Jimmy Carters civil rights record, and claiming that Reagan would help black enterprise. Once Reagan was elected, however, Williams found the White House was no longer interested in the input of black leaders. In response, Williams backed Jesse Jackson for president in 1984. That year Williams entered the primary for his U.S. congressional seat, but won only 29 percent of the vote. In 1985, he was sentenced to one year in jail after leaving the scene of a traffic accident in which another person was injured. The same year, he was elected to the Atlanta City Council, a post he held until 1990.

In January of 1987, Williams led 75 marchers to all-white Forsyth County, just north of Atlanta. The demonstrators were met by 500 Ku Klux Klan members and sympathizerssome in robes, some in military fatigues who overwhelmed police lines, throwing rocks and bottles while shouting racial slurs. In 30 years in the civil rights movement, I havent seen racism any more sick than here today, Williams was quoted as saying in The Way It Was in the South.

Another march was scheduled for the following weekend. This time, 20,000 people came, including Kings widow, Coretta Scott King; Mayor Andrew Young of Atlanta; former Colorado Senator Gary Hart; and Reverend Jesse Jackson. More than 1,700 National Guard members and 500 other law officers were present to protect the marchers from 1,000 white counter-demonstrators. It was the largest civil rights demonstration in Georgias history, and received international media coverage. Afterward, Williams and other marchers filed a class-action suit against the Klan members who had attacked them. Williams later withdrew from the suit, claiming that it was un-Christian to punish the attackers with financial damages. Even though white racists may extend only hate to us, we must extend only love to them, he wrote in an article published in the AJC.

In 1989, Williams ran for mayor of Atlanta against Democratic candidate Maynard Jackson. Lacking the money to buy television or newspaper advertisements, Williams based his campaign on personal appearances and guest slots on radio and television shows. He was eventually defeated. Meanwhile, Williams continued to be interested in bringing blacks and the Republican Party together. Blacks are sick and tired of being hostages of the Democratic Party, he told a group of Atlanta Republicans in 1989, according to the AJC. Please open your mind and your hearts and make the Republican party a multiracial party. Not for the good of the party, but for the good of the country.

Retired from Politics

In 1990, Williams was elected as a De Kalb County Commissioner, with 82 percent of the vote. However, his tenure was marred by controversy. He came under fire in 1991, when he voted to give a grant to a small business development corporation, without disclosing that he had founded the agency or that his daughter was among its officers. Later that year, the AJC ran a front-page expose on the Martin Luther King Jr. Poor Peoples Church of Love, charging that the tax-exempt organization held no worship services, and its main activity seemed to be hosting bingo games.

Williams also continued to make headlines for his driving offensesconvictions which he claimed were politically motivated. In 1992, Williams avoided going to trial on felony hit and run charges by pleading guilty. He spent 30 days in jail before spending time in an alcohol treatment center. In 1994, Williams, who was in the middle of a campaign for re-election to the County Commission, announced that he was retiring from politics in order to work with the poor. He told the AJC that he planned to rejuvenate his cash-strapped Feed the Hungry program, write an autobiography, and complete a true history of the civil rights movement. Williams, who was 68 at the time, had recently undergone back and neck surgery, but said his health did not influence his decision.

In 1995, Williams participated in the Million Man March, organized by Louis Farrakhan, in Washington, DC. Later that year, he tried to organize a similar march in the Atlanta area. Though he had hoped for 100,000, only about 400 turned up. In 1996, Williams led a march to the state capitol to protest the current Georgia flag, which incorporates the Confederate flag.

Williams, whom The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has described as the Energizer bunny of the civil rights movement, continues to advocate direct action as the best way of achieving social change. As Williams himself told that paper, When I get too old to march, Ill go get me a rolling chairone of those wheelchairs with batteries. Marching is the way you keep black folk nonviolent, focused, and progressive.

In 1999 Williams had surgery to remove a cancerous kidney, though it was successful, he died of cancer on November 16, 2000. Atlanta mayor Bill Campbell told Jet, Rev. Hosea Williams was a true American hero, freedom fighter, and dedicated public servant.

Sources

Books

Adams, A. John and Burke, Joan Martin, Civil Rights: A Current Guide to the People, Organizations, and Events, Bowker, 1970, pp. 92-9, 104.

Contemporary Authors, Gale Research, 1975.

Facts on File World News Digest, January 30, 1987; November 4, 1988; October 6, 1989.

Grant, Donald L., The Way It Was in the South, 1993, pp. 416-18, 550-57.

Grossman, Mark, The Civil Rights Movement, 1993, p. 179.

Hawkins, Walter L., African-American Biographies, 2: Profiles of 332 Current Men and Women, 1994, pp. 316-17.

Lichtenstein, Nelson, Political Parties and Elections in the United States, Facts on File, 1976.

Lowery, Charles D. and John F. Marszalek (editors), Encyclopedia of African-American Civil Rights, Greenwood Press, 1992.

Periodicals

Atlanta Journal-Constitution, November 16, 1988, p. A11; March 9, 1989, p. HI; September 24, 1989, p. B1; February 4, 1990, p. D1; November 7, 1990, p. A9; July 21, 1991, p. A1; March 3, 1994, p. A3; July 24, 1994, p. D2; February 26, 1995, p. A11; November 12, 1995, p. H4; July 18, 1996, p. S16; July 20, 1996, p. A14; November 16, 1996, p. D1.

The Christian Century, December 6, 2000.

Ebony, June 1965, p. 170.

Essence, May 2000.

Jet, October 25, 1999, p. 9; December 4, 2000, p. 16.

Nations Restaurant News, December 11, 2000, p. 22.

PR Newswire, November 20, 2000.

Carrie Golus and Ashyia N. Henderson

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Williams, Hosea Lorenzo 1926–

Hosea Lorenzo Williams 1926

Civil rights activist, politician

At a Glance

Joined Civil Rights Movement

Ran for Political Office

Retired from Politics

Sources

Image not available for copyright reasons

Hosea Williams-research chemist, ordained minister, and politician-is best known for his activities during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, when he worked closely with Martin Luther King, Jr. Williams, whom King called my [Cuban strategist Fidel] Castro, supervised voter registration in hostile areas, led many dangerous marches, and was arrested more than 100 times. His wife and two of his children were also arrested during civil rights campaigns. On March 7, 1965, Williams led the infamous Bloody Sunday march in Alabama, when the demonstrators were brutally beaten by state troopers. A 1965 issue of Ebony magazine recognized Williams as always on hand when the going is rough.

After King was assassinated, Williams became involved in mainstream politics, as a state representative for Georgia (1974-85), Atlanta city councillor (1985-90), and DeKalb [Georgia] county commissioner (1990-94). Throughout his political career, he continued to fight for civil rights, using Kings method of direct action. In 1987, Williams led a march to all-white Forsyth County, Georgia, where counter-demonstrators threw rocks and bottles while shouting racial slurs. In 1996, Williams organized a march to the state capitol to protest the current Georgia flag, which incorporates the Confederate flag.

Williams, a controversial figure, has always maintained a high public profile, though not all the publicity has been positive. He has been arrested more than 30 times for traffic offenses, and twice has been sentenced to jail terms for leaving the scene of an accident. Largely because of his discipleship under Dr. King, and partly because of his knack for being outrageous, Mr. Williams has remained in the flash and glow of the news media for 30 years, Bert Roughton, Jr. wrote in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (AJC). The same publication quoted David J. Garrow, who wrote a Pulitzer Prize-winning history of the Civil Rights movement, as saying, The problem is, Hoseas post-1968 credibility has not developed well.

Hosea Williams was born on January 5, 1926, in Attapulgus, Georgia. His mother, a blind woman, died giving birth to Williamss sister, leaving the children to be raised by Turner Williams, their grandfather. As a child, Williams never knew his father, who was also blind; the two met for the first time once Williams was fully grown.

At a Glance

Born Hosea Lorenzo Williams, January 5, 1926, Attapulgus, Georgia; married Juanita Terry; children: Barbara, Elizabeth, Hosea II, Andre, Yolanda, and four adopted children.Education: Morris Brown College, B.A.; Atlanta University, M.S. Religion: Protestant.

Ordained clergyman; high school science teacher, 1951-52; U.S. Department of Agriculture, research chemist, 1952-63; publisher, Chatham County Crusader, 1961-63; Southern Christian Leadership Conference, special projects director, 1963-70, national program director, 1967-69, regional vice president, 1970-71; national executive director, 1969-71, 1977-79; organizer, Poor Peoples Union of America, 1973; leader, Martin Luther King Jr. Peoples Church of Love, 1973-; founder, Southeast Chemical Manufacturing and Distributing Company, 1976. Georgia State Representative, 1974-85; Atlanta City Councillor, 1985-90; De Kalb County Commissioner, 1990-94.

Awards: Most Courageous Leadership in the Freedom Movement Award, NAACP, 1960-61; Ten Years of Satisfactory Service Award, U.S. Department of Agriculture, 1961; Cause of Freedom in the Tradition of True Democracy, Georgia State-wide Registration Committee and SCLC, 1963; SCLC National Affiliate of the Year Award, National SCLC Conference, 1963; Chapter of the Year Award, Atlanta Chapter SCLC, 1973; Civil Rights Leader of the Year Award, Black Media Inc., 1975; Community Action Agency Award, Tuskegee, Alabama, 1976.

Member: Phi Beta Sigma Inc, National Order of Elks and Free and Accepted Masons, SCLC, NAACP, Disabled American Veterans, Veterans of Foreign Wars, American Legion, National Science Society, Georgias Voter League, American Chemistry Society, National Committee of Black Churchmen, National Democratic Party.

Addresses: Home Atlanta, Georgia.Office 1959 Boulevard S.E., Atlanta, Georgia.

At the age of 14, Williams left the farm where he had been reaised, walking with a friend to Tallahassee, where he got a job washing dishes in a bus station. Three years later, he returned to his grandparents farm and unsuccessfully tried running it, but the farm failed. When World War II began, he enlisted in the U.S. Army, eventually becoming staff sergeant. He was wounded by shrapnel in Germany and spent 13 months recuperating in a hospital in England.

While racism was less blatant in the United States military and in Europe, Williams was forcibly reminded of the color line once he returned to the South. On his way back to Georgia, he was beaten up after he drank from a white water fountain in a bus station. In Georgia, Williams returned to school, earning his high school diploma when he was 23. He went on to study chemistry at Morris Brown College in Atlanta. After graduating with a B.A. at the age of 27, he taught science at a segregated high school in Douglasville, Georgia. In 1952, he took a job as a research chemist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Savannah, Georgia, a job he held until 1963. During that time, he also became an ordained minister. In the early 1950s, Williams married Juanita Terry. The couple would have five children of their ownBarbara Jean, Elizabeth LaCenia, Hosea Lorenzo Williams II, Andre Jerome, and Yolanda Feliciaas well as four adopted children.

Joined Civil Rights Movement

In 1952, Williams attended his first meeting of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Though Savannah had a large population of educated, middle-class blacks, it was as segregated as any other city in the South. Williams later recalled the day he took his two young sons to a drugstore and had to explain that they could not sit at the soda fountain and have a Coke. According to Williams, this incident inspired him to join the struggle for civil rights.

As a member of Savannahs NAACP, Williams became known for his skill in grass-roots organization. Later, he became an active member of Martin Luther Kings Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), which stressed nonviolent protest. According to Civil Rights: A Current Guide, the SCLCs first major civil rights campaign began in 1960, when King called on blacks to begin mass violation of immoral laws. That year, Williams organized an economic boycott by blacks in Savannah, after training his volunteers in non-violent tactics. He also served his first jail term-35 days.

The civil rights struggle was more violent in Savannah than in other Georgia cities, such as Atlanta or Albany. According to Donald L. Grant, author of The Way It Was in the South, one reason for the militant civil rights movement in Savannah was its leader, Hosea Williams. Grant also quoted Andrew Young, one of the more conservative members of the SCLC, as once having said about him, Hosea could scare the sheet off a Klansman. In 1962, at the Atlanta convention of the NAACP, Williamss candidacy for the national board of directors was vetoed because he was too militant. As a result, Williams left the NAACP, becoming active in the SCLC.

While lunch counters in Savannah were desegregated in the 1961, hotels, motels, theaters, and restaurants were not. In the summer of 1963, Williams led the Chatham County Crusade for Voterswhich was affiliated with the SCLCto push for total desegregation. That summer, he was arrested again after a white woman complained that the demonstrations made her fear for her life and kept her awake at night. Other whites stepped forward to press charges, so that Williamss bond came to $35,000. Williams remained in jail for 65 days-at that time, the longest continuous stretch of any movement leader-until bailed by the president of a local bank.

Influential whites then formed a Committee of 100 and began accompanying blacks to segregated establishments, which soon changed their policies. Savannah began integrating its schools that fall. The next year, when King visited Savannah, he declared it to be the most desegregated city in the South. Williams finally returned to the drugstore and bought his sons their Cokes. According to The Way It Was in the South, Williams later recalled, That was one of the happiest days of my life.

In 1963, Williams moved to Atlanta to join the SCLC, holding the position of special projects director until 1970. He led marches, supervised voter registration, and was arrested more than 100 times. Among the SCLC leaders, Williams was one of the strongest supporters of direct action. He was known as Kings field general; Williams was quoted in The Way It Was in the South as saying that his job was to go out among black people who were too scared to death and get them jumping up, marching around, and filling up the jails.

On March 7, 1965, Williams and 600 followers began a trek from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, to protest segregationan event that would later be called the Bloody Sunday march. The demonstrators got no further than the Edmund Pettus Bridge outside Selma. There, Alabama state troopers set upon them, beating the marchers with clubs and firing tear gas canisters into the crowd. Two weeks later, King led thousands of marchers to Montgomery, and President Lyndon B. Johnson appeared on national television to support them. That was one of the greatest triumphs of the civil rights movement, Williams later told the AJC.Thats when we crushed the mightiest of the mighty forces of racism.

In April of 1968, Williams was with a group of activists staying at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis. As he recalled, he was turning the key to his room just as he heard a gunshot ring out. The shot had killed King, who was standing on a balcony just above him. One of Kings feet was sticking through the railing above my head.... When I saw all the policemen come running a few minutes later, I was trying to take molecules from the sky to make a gun. Wanted to kill [the world], he was quoted as saying in the AJC.

After Kings death, Williams led the SCLC to consider the problems of poverty as well as race. He organized soup lines, clothing centers, and a legal clinic. In 1971, Williams represented the SCLC on a Worldwide Brotherhood Tour, visiting Africa, India, Viet Nam, Hong Kong, and China. He held a number of positions in the SCLC over the years, including national program director (1967-69) regional vice president (1970-71), and executive director (1969-71, 1977-79).

Ran for Political Office

Williams was one of the first civil rights leaders to try to enter politics. In 1968, he ran unsuccessfully for the Georgia House of Representatives as a Democrat. In 1970, he switched parties, running for secretary of state of Georgia as a Republican, but lost again. Changing back to the Democratic party, Williams lost the primary for the U.S. Senator from Georgia in 1972 and the primary for mayor of Atlanta in 1973. Williams finally succeeded in politics in 1974, when he was elected to the Georgia General Assembly, serving southeast Atlanta. Williams would hold the position of senator until 1985, when his wife, Juanita, succeeded him in the state legislature.

Meanwhile, Williams continued to agitate for civil rights. In 1970, Williams led a 110-mile march against repression from Perry, Georgia to Atlanta, as a protest against President Nixon and his administration. During the march, Williams called for black power, a phrase that had been attacked by King, who wanted the civil rights movement to remain nonviolent. Williams later qualified his statement, saying that black power meant self-respect, not violence.

Also in 1970, Williams helped organize a church program to feed 200 homeless men on Thanksgiving. By the late 1990s, Williamss Feed the Hungry program had grown so that each year up to 45,000 were fed on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Martin Luther Kings birthday. In 1972, Williams established the Martin Luther King, Jr. Peoples Church of Love, Inc., as well as the Poor Peoples Union of America. In 1976, Williams founded Southeast Chemical Manufacturing and Distributing Company, which he built into a substantial business as he pursued a political career in Atlanta. By 1991, Williams had founded three more chemical companies: A-l Sanitary Chemicals and Supplies, Kingwell Chemical Corp., and Terry Enterprises.

In 1977, Williams was chosen as executive director of the SCLC. Two years later, the board fired him, claiming that he was spending too much time on Atlantas problems, rather than national issues. Williams remained head of the Metro Atlanta SCLC chapter and formed a short-lived Martin Luther King Jr. National Coalition to Save the SCLC. According to The Way It Was in the South, Williams kept a high public persona but was considered an embarrassment by much of Atlantas civil rights establishment.

In politics, as in the civil rights movement, Williams was not afraid to hold controversial positions. He publicly endorsed Ronald Reagan for president in 1980, faulting Jimmy Carters civil rights record, and claiming that Reagan would help black enterprise. Once Reagan was elected, however, Williams found the White House was no longer interested in the input of black leaders. In response, Williams backed Jesse Jackson for president in 1984. That year Williams entered the primary for his U.S. congressional seat, but won only 29 percent of the vote. In 1985, he was sentenced to one year in jail after leaving the scene of a traffic accident in which another person was injured. The same year, he was elected to the Atlanta City Council, a post he held until 1990.

In January of 1987, Williams led 75 marchers to all-white Forsyth County, just north of Atlanta. The demonstrators were met by 500 Ku Klux Klan members and sympathizerssome in robes, some in military fatigueswho overwhelmed police lines, throwing rocks and bottles while shouting racial slurs. In 30 years in the civil rights movement, I havent seen racism any more sick than here today, Williams was quoted as saying in The Way It Was in the South.

Another march was scheduled for the following weekend. This time, 20,000 people came, including Kings widow, Coretta Scott King; Mayor Andrew Young of Atlanta; former Colorado Senator Gary Hart; and Reverend Jesse Jackson. More than 1,700 National Guard members and 500 other law officers were present to protect the marchers from 1,000 white counter-demonstrators. It was the largest civil rights demonstration in Georgias history, and received international media coverage. Afterward, Williams and other marchers filed a class-action suit against the Klan members who had attacked them. Williams later withdrew from the suit, claiming that it was un-Christian to punish the attackers with financial damages. Even though white racists may extend only hate to us, we must extend only love to them, he wrote in an article published in the AJC.

In 1989, Williams ran for mayor of Atlanta against Democratic candidate Maynard Jackson. Lacking the money to buy television or newspaper advertisements, Williams based his campaign on personal appearances and guest slots on radio and television shows. He was eventually defeated. Meanwhile, Williams continued to be interested in bringing blacks and the Republican Party together. Blacks are sick and tired of being hostages of the Democratic Party, he told a group of Atlanta Republicans in 1989, according to the AJC.Please open your mind and your hearts and make the Republican party a multiracial party.... Not for the good of the party, but for the good of the country.

Retired from Politics

In 1990, Williams was elected as a De Kalb County Commissioner, with 82 percent of the vote. However, his tenure was marred by controversy. He came under fire in 1991, when he voted to give a grant to a small business development corporation, without disclosing that he had founded the agency or that his daughter was among its officers. Later that year, the AJC ran a frontpage expose on the Martin Luther King Jr. Poor Peoples Church of Love, charging that the tax-exempt organization held no worship services, and its main activity seemed to be hosting bingo games.

Williams also continued to make headlines for his driving offensesconvictions which he claimed were politically motivated. In 1992, Williams avoided going to trial on felony hit and run charges by pleading guilty. He spent 30 days in jail before spending time in an alcohol treatment center. In 1994, Williams, who was in the middle of a campaign for re-election to the County Commission, announced that he was retiring from politics in order to work with the poor. He told the AJC that he planned to rejuvenate his cash-strapped Feed the Hungry program, write an autobiography, and complete a true history of the civil rights movement. Williams, who was 68 at the time, had recently undergone back and neck surgery, but said his health did not influence his decision.

In 1995, Williams participated in the Million Man March, organized by Louis Farrakhan, in Washington, DC. Later that year, he tried to organize a similar march in the Atlanta area. Though he had hoped for 100,000, only about 400 turned up. In 1996, Williams led a march to the state capitol to protest the current Georgia flag, which incorporates the Confederate flag.

Williams, whom The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has described as the Energizer bunny of the civil rights movement, continues to advocate direct action as the best way of achieving social change. As Williams himself told that paper, When I get too old to march, Ill go get me a rolling chairone of those wheelchairs with batteries.... Marching is the way you keep black folk nonviolent, focused, and progressive.

Sources

Books

Adams, A. John and Burke, Joan Martin, Civil Rights: A Current Guide to the People, Organizations, and Events, Bowker, 1970, pp. 92-9, 104.

Contemporary Authors, Gale Research, 1975.

Facts on File World News Digest, January 30, 1987; November 4, 1988; October 6, 1989.

Grant, Donald L.,The Way It Was in the South, 1993, pp. 416-18, 550-57.

Grossman, Mark, The Civil Rights Movement, 1993, p. 179.

Hawkins, Walter L., African-American Biographies, 2: Profiles of 332 Current Men and Women, 1994, pp. 316-17.

Lichtenstein, Nelson, Political Parties and Elections in the United States, Facts on File, 1976.

Lowery, Charles D. and John F. Marszalek (editors), Encyclopedia of African-American Civil Rights, Greenwood Press, 1992.

Periodicals

Atlanta Journal-Constitution, November 16, 1988, p. A11 ; March 9, 1989, p. H1; September 24, 1989, p.Bl; February 4, 1990, p. Dl; November 7, 1990, p. A9; July 21, 1991, p. A1; March 3, 1994, p. A3; July 24, 1994, p. D2; February 26, 1995, p. A11; November 12, 1995, p. H4; July 18, 1996, p. S16; July 20, 1996, p. A14; November 16, 1996, p. D1.

Ebony, June 1965, p. 170.

Carrie Golus

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