Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Father's influence

BOND: We've heard a lot about your mother. What about your father? What effect did he have on you?

WILLIAMS: Well, my father was a World War II vet and as so many of the veterans of that great generation, he never really talked much about the war. He served in the Pacific. He fought in Burma and he was in India, Australia, and he was a strong, determined man who worked hard and he thought that as long as he was the breadwinner for the family, that was what he needed to do and so the person who really interacted with me outside of school was my mother. I wanted to share with you something that was very traumatic and have been very important in terms of my Peace Corps service. When I was in the Peace Corps, Dr. King and Robert Kennedy were both assassinated and I lost my faith in my country to solve the great social problems of the time and I wanted to come home. And so I told my mother and father. I wrote my mother and father a letter, couldn't call them, of course, in those days, and told them I was coming home. My father who had never written me a letter in his entire life wrote me a letter and in his letter he said, do not come home. He says, what you're doing now is very important. You're giving people an opportunity to learn about Americans, you're learning about the people there. He says you're doing things I never even expected you to do. It's more important that you stay there. You can come home and then you can be of service when you get back. That was the first time and only time my father ever wrote me a letter and it convinced me to stay in the Peace Corps at that moment in time.

BOND: Did you talk to him about that in later years?

WILLIAMS: I did. I still have the letter to this day.

BOND: I would think you would.