Eddie N. Williams, head of leading black think tank and true democrat, dies at 84


Eddie N. Williams, the son of a hotel housekeeper who as the head of the nation’s leading black think tank for more than three decades marshaled facts and figures to advocate the political and economic advancement of black people, died last week in Bethesda, Md. He was 84, The New York Times reports:

In 1972, Mr. Williams was recruited by two prominent black men, Kenneth B. Clark, the educator and psychologist, and Louis E. Martin, a former White House aide under Lyndon B. Johnson, to run what was then called the Joint Center for Political Studies. The center had been established in Washington two years earlier to provide political and governmental expertise to the trailblazing black officials who had been elected since the 1965 Voting Rights Act was approved.

“Eddie Williams built an institution that helped a generation of black leaders move from activism into governance, and that informed and inspired a generation of scholars committed to using ideas to change real lives,” said Joint Center Board Chair Barbara Johnson. “We are grateful for Eddie Williams’ vision, leadership, and dedication. He leaves an amazing legacy as a giant who blazed new trails when it came to empowering black elected officials.”

The Board and staff of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) were saddened to learn of the passing of Williams – a Board Member of the NED from 1988 – 1995.

“Eddie Williams was a dedicated NED Board Member who was valued by everyone who worked with him,” said NED president Carl Gershman.” He helped strengthen NED’s relations with the Congressional Black Caucus and, through the Joint Center for Political Studies, helped build new links between NED and civil society in Africa.  He was a man of great integrity and a true democrat.  We mourn his passing and will miss him greatly.”

Williams was a key figure in a new generation of black leaders to launch a coordinated assault on the ‘callous neglect’ of African-Americans in the post-civil rights era.

“It was amazing to see,” said another participant, “that only two people in the room ‐ Bayard Rustin and Dorothy Height – had been a part of the old civil rights coalition of the 60’s. Now there were in addition urban representatives, and political and business leadеrs.”

“In the same way, there was the feeling that the issues are now sufficiently complex, particularly with new economic challenges, that this kind of broad‐based leadership is needed and there was enough expertise now that no one group had to bear the whole burden.”

The Joint Center defined its mission not so much as advocacy but as one of basic research and practical education within the political system. The low-key Mr. Williams was content to stand by quietly as well-known political figures, academics and civil rights leaders transformed his center’s ideas into public causes, The Washington Post adds.

“In a real sense, the Joint Center for Political Studies became a shepherd for many of these newly elected black officials,” Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) said in a short film (below) about the center’s history. “They didn’t have role models . . . They needed someone to show them the ropes.”

Funeral Services will take place on Saturday, May 20, 2017

Location: Howard University Law Center, Dunbarton Chapel

Viewing: 10 a.m. – 11 a.m.

Funeral Service: 11 a.m. – completion

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