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Franklin Hall Williams

Franklin H. Williams was a lawyer, government administrator, and ambassador who played an important role in the modern CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT. As an attorney with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Williams worked to desegregate public schools, public housing, and workplaces.

Franklin Hall Williams was born on October 22, 1917, in Flushing, New York. He graduated from Lincoln University in Pennsylvania in 1941 and served in a racially segregated unit of the U.S. Army during WORLD WAR II. He graduated from Fordham University School of Law in 1945.

After receiving his law degree, Williams accepted a position with the NAACP. From 1945 to 1950, Williams was an assistant special counsel for the NAACP LEGAL DEFENSE AND EDUCATIONAL FUND and a special assistant to THURGOOD MARSHALL, the head of the fund who later became an associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. Williams worked with Marshall during the NAACP's efforts to desegregate public education, which were significantly aided by the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court decision in BROWN V. BOARD OF EDUCATION OF TOPEKA, KANSAS, 347 U.S. 483. Brown overruled the 1896 decision of PLESSY V. FERGUSON, 163 U.S. 537, which had allowed racially segregated facilities on trains and, by implication, in public schools.

In 1950, Williams became the NAACP's regional director of the western states. Under his leadership, the office pushed for legislation on minority employment, open housing, and other CIVIL RIGHTS issues. In 1959, Williams left the organization to become an assistant attorney general of California, where he was instrumental in setting up the state's constitutional rights section.

In 1961, Williams became special assistant to Sargent Shriver, who helped to establish the Peace Corps. In 1963, Williams served as director of the African regional division. In the same year, Williams became the first African-American to serve as U.S. representative to the United Nations Economic and Social Council.

In 1965, President LYNDON B. JOHNSON appointed Williams to be the U.S. ambassador to Ghana. Williams held the post until 1968 and is credited with improving what had been strained relations between the U.S. and Ghana.

Williams returned to New York City after leaving his diplomatic post. He headed the Urban Center at Columbia University and served as vice chairperson of the New York Board of Higher Education. In 1987, Williams chaired the New York State Judicial Commission on Minorities, which examined the treatment of minorities in the state's courts.

Williams also served as president of the Phelps-Stokes Fund from 1970 to 1990. This foundation was established in 1911 to improve educational opportunities for African-Americans, Native Americans, and Africans. One of Williams's first moves as president was to persuade the foundation's board to divest itself of holdings in corporations that did business in South Africa, which at that time was governed by a white minority employing the racially segregated practices of apartheid. Williams's divestiture action was later adopted by other foundations and institutions.


Williams died on May 20, 1990, in New York City.

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