Abraham Williams honored by state legislators in honor of black history month photo cred WBKO production

During February’s legislative session, Representative Kevin Jackson honored Abraham Williams on the house floor in celebration of Black History Month, citing his years of service to the Bowling Green community as well as his work in Alabama during the Civil Rights Movement.

Since 1995, Williams has served as Executive Director of the Housing Authority of Bowling Green, fueling initiatives that aim to empower and uplift underserved communities.

Through programs that promote family self-sufficiency, housing assistance, food assistance, entrepreneurial opportunities and literacy, Williams has impacted the lives of countless individuals in Bowling Green, though his work began long before he became a Kentuckian.

Born in Phenix City, Alabama in 1947, Williams saw firsthand the racial divide that plagues the nation. As a young black man in the Deep South, he remembers his father’s return from the Vietnam War and how his white neighbors treated him, despite his status as a veteran.

“The worst part I’d ever seen with my daddy was we’d went to help one of his friends at work to clean up his yard, rake leaves, all like that,” Williams recollected. “I’d never seen my daddy so hurt in my life when we went there and knocked on the door, and he cracked the door and he told us to go around to the back.”

“My daddy asked him, ‘Man, go around to the back for what? You’re right here.’” Williams continued. “And he said, ‘Well yeah, but my neighbors might see you coming through my front door,’ and just the look on my daddy’s face, tears coming down because they were such good friends at work.”

As a young man, Williams knew that there were different rules for him than there were for white children. Segregation was still rampant, with separate neighborhoods, water fountains and public spaces designated for white people rather than black people.

“We had to live in a certain area of town, and we had to ride on the back of the bus. Even going to school, we didn’t have buses then for black kids, and white kids would ride by you in the bus and throw things at you and stuff, but that was just all part of growing up,” Williams explained.

Williams later attended Alabama A&M University. He remembers being there, in the library, when he received word that Martin Luther King, Jr. had been assassinated. In response, he and other students descended on the streets of Huntsville, campaigning for Dr. King’s message of equality, and the integration of schools.

“So we started with 100, 200, 300 people before we got to downtown Huntsville about five or six miles away, and it might’ve been 1,000 students, and we’re marching,” he recollected. “And as we approach Meridian Street and North Street downtown, we looked over those tall buildings and there’s guys with shotguns, rifles and police officers looking at us.”

Despite the danger, after repeated marches and sit-ins in the community, Williams’ goal was a success. Huntsville schools were integrated in 1971.

After receiving his degree from Alabama A&M, Williams returned to his hometown of Phenix City. There, he once again sought to create lasting change, creating new opportunities for the next generation through sports.

“We had to basically stay on the south end of town and create our sports. So, I did. I created baseball leagues and football leagues and softball leagues, and we enjoyed it, but again, we couldn’t play against the white kids. We had to go to Tuskegee and Montgomery and Atlanta and Columbus, Georgia to play against the other black kids,” Williams said.

After years of effort, the integration of the sports leagues began with girls’ softball. Against their white opponents, Williams’ team saw no success. “They beat me to death, I mean they just beat me to death. But the second year, I said, ‘I’ll be back,’” he said.

After their first unsuccessful season, that softball team went on to win five straight state titles.

“And we walked out there with an Alabama flag, all black kids, and to represent the state of Alabama, and when they called Alabama, little place, Phenix City, Alabama, out of public housing, we walked out there. That’s probably the proudest moment that I ever had in my job,” Williams said.

He went on to integrate Phenix City’s football and baseball teams, all with similar success while creating mentorship programs for black youth in the city.
In 1995, Williams brought his impact to Bowling Green, where he’s been spreading a similar wave of change to underserved communities. For those efforts, Rep. Kevin Jackson was given his name by city and county officials to bring before state officials in Frankfort to be recognized.

“Even though he’s not a Kentuckian by birth, he represents what it means to be a Kentuckian, like hard work, perseverance, willingness to extend your neighbor a helping hand when they need it. So, all of those things we think of about being a good person and being a good Kentuckian, Abraham represents all of those facets of life,” Jackson shared.

Williams has no intention of slowing down, as he knows that there’s still work to be done in the fight for equality across the nation. To fuel that change, he offered a piece of stern advice.

“Stop making excuses. The biggest thing I’ve seen is that we always make excuses why we can’t do it. A lot of the whites make excuses because they’re afraid of what their friends gonna say when they see a black working in their office and doing different things. A lot of the blacks are making excuses saying, ‘Oh, they’re not gonna hire me because I’m black.’ Shut up! Get off your butt, find something you’re good at,” he said.

Williams continues to serve as the Executive Director of the Housing Authority of Bowling Green and plans to enact further programs that continue to uplift those in need of help.

Originally Published by WBKO
Derek Parham
Feb. 13, 2024