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Williams, Hosea Lorenzo

Williams, Hosea Lorenzo

January 5, 1926
November 16, 2000


Civil rights leader and politician Hosea Williams was born and raised in Attapalgus, Georgia. He served in the military from 1944 to 1946. In 1951 he graduated from Morris Brown College in Atlanta with a B.A. in chemistry, and went on to earn a master of science degree from Atlanta University. Upon graduation he worked for the U.S. Department of Agriculture as a research chemist in Savannah, Georgia. In the late 1950s and early 1960s he became active in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and participated in desegregation drives and other civil rights activities. In 1960 he became head of the Southeastern Georgia Crusade for Voters. Williams was an outspoken believer in direct action, and under his direction the crusade waged one of the most successful voter registration drives in the South.

In 1962 the crusade affiliated with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), and one year later Williams moved to Atlanta to join the staff of SCLC as a full-time project director. He became a top assistant to SCLC's president, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and organized grassroots voter registration drives. In 1965 he led the civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, in which marchers were brutally attacked by state troopers and local police.

After King's assassination in 1968, Williams remained active in the SCLC. From 1969 to 1971 he served as executive director of the SCLC under the leadership of Rev. Ralph Abernathy. Williams led a militant faction in the SCLC who called for "black power" and self-help and rejected integration as a ent goal. In 1971 he resigned his position and founded an SCLC chapter in Atlanta with his supporters to practice the type of grassroots activism he favored.

In 1974 Williams entered the political arena and was elected to the Georgia General Assembly as Atlanta representative. From 1977 to 1979 he returned to the position of SCLC national executive director, but he was removed from his post by members of the board of directors who were critical of his outside activities and insisted that he devote more time to his position. (In 1972 Williams had founded and served as the pastor of the Martin Luther King Jr. People's Church of Love in Atlanta; after 1976 he was proprietor of his own business, the Southeast Chemical Manufacturing and Distributing Corporation.)

Although Williams maintained his commitment to grassroots organizing and direct action, his political allegiances shifted to the Republican Party, and in 1980 he endorsed Ronald Reagan for president. He argued that African Americans should seek to make the Republican Party accountable to them and that few Democratic candidates were willing to deal with the "meat and bread" issues facing blacks and the poor. Four years later, running as a Republican, he lost the race for the Fifth District U.S. congressional seat from Atlanta, but the next year he was elected to the Atlanta city council.

Williams's consistent championing of issues that affected the poor, and his flamboyant and often contentious personal style, made him a well-known figure in Atlanta politics. In 1987 he led a march into Georgia's Forsyth County, a nearly all-white suburb, to protest residential segregation. The march attracted national attention when the participants were attacked by members of the Ku Klux Klan. In 1989 Williams made an unsuccessful bid for mayor of Atlanta on the Republican ticket. Three years later he once again led a protest march into Forsyth County.

Williams retired from the city council in 1994 and died in 2000 after a lengthy battle with prostate cancer.

See also Black Power Movement; Civil Rights Movement, U.S.; Politics in the United States

Bibliography

"Civil Rights Leader Hosea Williams Dies at 74." Jet, December 2000, p. 16.

Fairclough, Adam. To Redeem the Soul of America: The Southern Christian Leadership Conference and Martin Luther King Jr. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1987.

Garrow, David J. Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conferences. New York: Morrow, 1986.

steven j. leslie (1996)

robyn c. spencer (1996)
Updated by publisher 2005

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