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*Hattie Williams was born on this date in 1922. She was a Black humanitarian and educational activist.
Hattie Belle Kay Williams was born and raised on South Lake Park Avenue in the Black Belt of Chicago, Illinois. Her great-grandmother, Rachel, was a slave owned by the Kay family in Anderson County. South Carolina. Her grandfather was Lawrence Kay. 1861, when he was eight years old, he was valued in the Kay estate sale at $500.00. Rachel and her two younger children were valued at $1,000. William’s maternal grandparents, Preston and Lizzie Latimer, were also from South Carolina. Her parents, Marion Kay and Hattie Belle Latimer Kay, moved from South Carolina to Chicago in 1917.
Her father was a dramatic tenor who toured the United States and Canada for fifteen years with the Dixie Melody Masters. He was also a member of the Hall Johnson Choir, which sang in the movie “Green Pastures.” He also sang solos in churches and civic concerts in Chicago. Williams had three older siblings, Lawrence, Alberta, and Marion, and five younger siblings: Edwin, Jerome, Richard, Julianne, and Azela. They were a profoundly religious family.
She dropped out of high school after 8th grade and earned her GED. In 1945, she married Bernard Williams; they had six children: one daughter, Barbara, and five sons, Bernard, Bradford, Briscoe, Bruce, and Brian. She became the first black president of the Parent-Teacher Association at Oakenwald Elementary School, a predominantly white school where her children were students. As the neighborhood became segregated, the schools deteriorated in material resources and the caliber of teachers.
Williams became a strong advocate for equality in the education of all children. When Martin Luther King Jr. came to Chicago in 1965, Hattie worked with him in a campaign known as the Chicago Freedom Movement. Responding to requests from local civil rights leaders, King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference joined the fight against school superintendent Benjamin Willis and Chicago’s segregated public schools.
In 1964, Williams received the Eleanor Roosevelt Memorial Foundation Award and grant, giving the money to the Learning Center she had established in 1963. In 1965, she received the State of Illinois Governor’s Citation Award for Service to Youth and, in 1966, a Life Membership in the Illinois Congress of Parent-Teacher Associations. In 1966, while battling recurring brain tumors, she opened her home to the neighborhood through a food pantry, a clothes closet, GED and self-esteem classes, and other activities.
Williams was a Roman Catholic who organized prayer groups for women and spoke at churches throughout Chicago, telling them of the great need for basics such as food, clothes, laundry soap, and toilet paper. She had a knack for moving people to become involved. She graduated from Warren Wilson Teachers’ College and earned a degree in social work from DePaul University through their “Hands-On” program. In 1973, Williams ran for alderman for the 4th Ward in Chicago.
She was an administer at the Legal Aid Advisory Board of Chicago, the Council of Community Services, the Paul J. Hall Club and Drum and Bugle Corps, the St. Ambrose Convent Community Service Project, and the Girl Scouts of America in the Chicago region, the South East Council of the Illinois Congress of Parent-Teacher Association and the Independent Voters of Illinois. The School Education Committee of the 4th Ward, the Juvenile Protection Committee of the Illinois Region of the Congress of Parent-Teacher Associations, and the Chicago Board of Education’s Human Rights Department. In 1978, her home was established as a Shalom Community, an ecumenical covenant community training people for mission and ministry to the poor and marginalized in communities worldwide.
Williams was honored with a Doctorate of Humanities from Anna Maria College. She received the Alberta Hall Memorial Award and the Giant Parent of Excellence Award Presented by Rev. Jesse Jackson of Operation Breadbasket in 1978.
She received other awards from the Lambda Kappa Mu Sorority Inc., Women Creating New Reality, Shalom, the Kuumba Kujichagulia Kujitegumea Award, and the Christian Ministry of Laity, Shariati, the Caring Institute in Washington D.C, and many more. On August 30, 1990, Hattie Belle Kay Williams died in her home.