Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Influential Figures: Parents and a Catholic Nun

BOND: Let me move on to some personal things. Who are the people most significant in helping you develop your talents and your skills? How would you list the people who had the biggest influence on you?

WILLIAMS: Well, I always say I am where I am because of progressive government that opened doors for me, like, for example, when I got out of the military, there was a G.I. Bill. That's a great example, you know. Scholarships from the government is a great example. The civil rights movement and loving parents. And if I had to list the people who had an influence on me, first and foremost, it would have to be my mother who really took a leadership role to adopt me when I was four or five years old, so she would have to be the most important, you know, influences of all influences.

And then there was my eighth grade teacher when I was in school who — she was, you know, a white Catholic nun. She was probably very conservative but it was the first statement I heard from any — up until eighth grade — the first statement I heard from any white person that there were these issues that were boiling out there and that they were important issues and one of the things she made us do was read all of Martin Luther King — not all, I'm sure not all — but Dr. King's major speeches, read about the leadership conference, read about the Coordinating Committee. This is a nun in a Catholic grade school and made me actually stand up in front of the class and read — some of the speeches I had to read, Lyndon Johnson's speech in 1965 after the beatings in Selma for the Voting Rights Act.

BOND: The great speech he ends with "We shall overcome."

WILLIAMS: Absolutely. She was a big, big influence on my kind of sense of myself and my own potential in what I could do.