The life of a major figure in the African American civil rights movement from North Carolina will be recognized with a North Carolina Highway Historical Marker.
The marker commemorating Robert Franklin Williams will be unveiled during a ceremony on Aug. 26 in his hometown.
Born in Monroe, N.C., in 1925, Williams moved to Detroit, where he worked in an auto assembly plant and became active in the labor movement. After serving in the U.S. Army and, later, in the U.S. Marine Corps, Williams returned to his hometown and was elected president of the Union County chapter of the NAACP.
In 1958, Williams took an active role in publicizing the Monroe “Kissing Case.” Two African American boys who were only seven and nine years old had been kissed on the cheeks by a young white girl while playing a game. The boys were subsequently arrested, tried, and convicted on charges of molesting the girl, and were sentenced to juvenile reform school. The Committee to Combat Racial Injustice was organized to defend the children, with Williams chosen as chairman. The committee successfully pressured Gov. Luther Hodges to pardon the boys the following year.
In 1959 he established The Crusader, a weekly newsletter which he edited and which promoted the civil rights movement.
In August 1961 he and his wife left the United States for several years to avoid kidnapping charges after providing shelter to a white couple who mistakenly wandered into an African American neighborhood in Monroe. The local police and the FBI allegedly convinced the couple to say Williams had kidnapped them, and the FBI put out a warrant for his arrest, causing him to flee to Cuba, and, later, the People's Republic of China. While in Cuba, Williams launched a radio program with the support of the government there called “Radio Free Dixie,” which contained a mixture of music, news, and commentary that often was critical of the domestic and foreign policies of the United States.
In 1969, however, Williams returned to the United States. Living in Michigan, he fought to clear his name. Finally extradited to stand trial in North Carolina, the charges against him were dropped in 1975. He continued to live with his family in Michigan, where he died of Hodgkin’s Disease in 1996. He was buried in Monroe, where he was eulogized at his funeral by Rosa Parks.
A panel discussion about Williams' impact on Union County and the nation as it relates to integration and Civil Rights will be held at the Batte Center at Wingate University at 11 a.m., followed by the unveiling of the marker at the corner of Boyte Street and U.S. 74 in Monroe at 2 p.m.
For more information about the historical marker and the event, please visit http://www.ncmarkers.com/Markers.aspx?MarkerId=L-119.
About the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources
The N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources (DNCR) manages, promotes, and enhances the things that people love about North Carolina – its diverse arts and culture, rich history, and spectacular natural areas. Through its programs, the department enhances education, stimulates economic development, improves public health, expands accessibility, and strengthens community resiliency.
The department manages over 100 locations across the state, including 27 historic sites, seven history museums, two art museums, five science museums, four aquariums, 35 state parks, four recreation areas, dozens of state trails and natural areas, the North Carolina Zoo, the North Carolina Symphony, the State Library, the State Archives, the N.C. Arts Council, the African American Heritage Commission, the American Indian Heritage Commission, the State Historic Preservation Office, the Office of State Archaeology, the Highway Historical Markers program, the N.C. Land and Water Fund, and the Natural Heritage Program. For more information, please visit www.ncdcr.gov.