Booker T. Williams remembered as fierce advocate for Blacks


by Christian Morrow, Courier Staff Writer

When retired state Sen. Jim Ferlo was asked his thoughts on Booker T. Williams, he said they first met in the 1970s—and the World War II veteran made an impression on the young community activist.

“He was a vocal advocate of funding the Freedom House ambulance, Mathilda Theis health center, Hill House back when Jim Henry was the executive director, and the 84-loop bus, among other successful initiatives. I always associated Booker with being a vocal advocate for greater minority employment in the visual media, the police force, corporate representation, and he was active in supporting progressive candidates across the political spectrum,” Ferlo said. “It was difficult for any elected or government official to avoid a direct answer to Booker when requested as he was intelligent, adamant but always a gentleman and a class act— he never thought of himself, but the community at-large or someone in need.”

Williams, a teacher, writer, fisherman, small business owner, jazz aficionado and devoted member of the NAACP Pittsburgh Branch, passed away on Aug. 13. He was 92.

Born in Aliquippa, his family moved to Pittsburgh and he graduated from Fifth Avenue High School before enlisting in the Army. He returned to Pittsburgh after the war and earned a master’s degree in education from Duquesne University before moving to Rochester, N.Y., where he taught English at Madison High School and also operated a record store.

Returning to Pittsburgh in the early 1970s, he served as the state coordinator for the Pennsylvania Department of Education’s PHEAA Act 101 program, which provided state schools with financial support for disadvantaged students. He also served as program director, and later interim executive director, for the Hill House Association.

Black Political Empowerment Program Chairman Tim Stevens, who spoke at Williams’ Aug. 21 funeral service at Bethesda Presbyterian Church in Homewood, said he was probably the NAACP Pittsburgh Branch’s most dependable member over the years.

“Booker Williams was a stalwart with the NAACP Pittsburgh Branch. He and I worked together for years. He was a strong supporter of mine as president of the branch, and more importantly was a strong supporter of the NAACP and of civil rights. He was a no-nonsense warrior in the cause for social and political justice, and in particular with regard to the rights of African Americans,” Stevens said. “In his role with the NAACP Political Action committee he was a never-ending advocate for voting rights for Black people, and for the need for us to always be in the voting booth on Election Day. He did his advocacy with passion, commitment and steadfastness, but frequently sprinkled with a never-ending sense of humor.”

Pittsburgh School Board representative Sala Udin said there were times when that humor was set aside.

“I remember Booker as a plain-spoken, bold-spoken leader involved with the NAACP and with the Hill House Association leadership,” Udin said. “It seemed to be important to Booker to not let things slide by, if they needed to be called out and exposed. This applied equally to our own community leaders as well as to the power brokers Downtown. But nobody doubted his integrity and he didn’t tolerate foolishness. Leaders of Booker’s type are not seen as much today, but they are surely missed.”

Williams is survived by three daughters, three grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.


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