Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Influential Teachers

BOND: This next question I think I know the answer to already, and that's who are the people who have been most significant in helping you develop your talents? Now, you've already talked about your parents and the influence they had on you. What about other people? Not parents. Other people -- teachers, ministers, community figures, those kind of people. But long before you meet Strom Thurmond.


BOND: Who are the people who helped you become who you are today?

WILLIAMS: Mr. Stevenson who was my history teacher who felt I had potential and he really worked with me. Mrs. Crawford, who was my science teacher. I always thrived in the math and the sciences in school. I always thrived, but they developed me. Mr. Watson. You know, I have never had a sports bone in my body. I have never been athletic. I could never make it like a lot of athletes today, but, anyhow, he made me manager of the basketball team and I kept the score and it gave me an interesting outlook about sports and about how life sort of mimics the basketball court and the arena sports. I learned so much from that, and then Bill Jones. Bill Jones was over 4H in my county. He got me into livestock judging where I would judge swine and I would judge cattle. And he got me to become a public speaker where I got into debates and the debate forums around the state to the point where I won the debate contest two years in a row as a sophomore and a junior in high school. And then my brother Alvin followed and won the same. And so these people had a very significant impact on my life. And the Hendersons.

I mean, I remember when I was -- we were taking typing and shorthand. I could never understand why a man would want to take typing or shorthand. And he felt I would thrive in it, and I took typing and I won all the awards in typing because I typed like a hundred and six words a minute and so they developed me and my father always encouraged them to come by. They'd fix a good meal for them, my mother -- they would fix a meal, and we would sit down and go around the table because my parents dropped out of school when they were in the sixth grade. So my parents would sit around the table and want to learn, too. They had a hunger for learning. And they also felt that I was being an example for my brothers and sisters to come that learning can be fun. It can be exciting, and so they made learning fun in our household. When we were about to have a tutoring session, everybody would gather around the table and just sit and learn and everybody would take notes. It was like a game in the house. Like some people had Nintendo, but learning math problems or logarithms, English and all that kind of stuff was very exciting in our household.