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Clara Belle Williams
*The birth of Clara Belle Williams in 1885 is celebrated on this date. She was a Black educator.
Born Clara Belle Drisdale in Plum, Texas, she attended Prairie View Normal and Independent College (now Prairie View A & M University) in 1903 and was valedictorian of her 1908 graduating class. Nine years later, she married Jasper Williams and had three sons: Jasper, James, and Charles.
She took courses at the University of Chicago and then enrolled at the New Mexico College of Agriculture & Mechanic Arts in the fall of 1928. Taking courses only offered during the summer, while she worked as a teacher at Booker T. Washington School in Las Cruces, New Mexico, she graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in English in 1937 at 51. Her husband died in 1946.
Clara Belle Williams continued her education well beyond graduation, taking graduate-level classes into the 1950s. Mrs. Williams provided an example of overcoming adversity and inspired her family and the people she met throughout her life. She succeeded despite significant obstacles of discrimination placed before her while pursuing her higher education. While attending New Mexico State, she sometimes had to stand outside in the hallway to listen to lectures. During a time, Las Cruces’s public schools were also segregated, and thus Williams taught at the Booker T. Washington School for more than 20 years.
Williams’ three sons all went to college and graduated with medical degrees. Charles attended Howard University Medical School in Washington, D.C.; Jasper and James graduated from Creighton University Medical School in Omaha, Nebraska. They went on to create the Williams Clinic in Chicago, Illinois. Clara Belle Williams went on to receive many honors during her lifetime. In 1961, New Mexico State University named Williams Street on the main campus in her honor. She received an Honorary Doctorate of Laws degree from NMSU in 1980.
Clara Belle Williams passed away on July 3, 1994, at 108. The first Clara Belle Williams Day was celebrated on February 13, 2005, at NMSU. Included in the festivities was renaming the NMSU English Building as Clara Belle Williams Hall.