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Union County Civil Rights Leader Honored with Historic Marker

MONROE – The NC Department of Natural and Cultural Resources approved a historical marker application for Robert F. Williams.

Robert Franklin Williams was one of the most influential active radical minds of a generation that overthrew Jim Crow and forever impacted American and African American history.

Williams was born in Monroe on February 26, 1925 to Emma Carter and John L. Williams, who worked as railroad boiler washers. He had two sisters, Lorraine Garlington and Jessie Link, and two brothers, John H. Williams and Edward S. Williams. In 1947, Williams married Mabel Ola Robinson, a civil rights activist. They had two children, John C. Williams and Robert F. Williams, Jr.

Williams was elected President of the Monroe NAACP with Dr. AE Perry elected Vice President; The two created a new energy in the community. During his tenure as president of the NAACP’s Monroe branch in the 1950s, Williams and his most dedicated supporters (male and female) used machine guns, Molotov cocktails, and explosives to defend themselves against Klan terrorists.

First, they worked to integrate the public library. Following this success in 1957, Williams also led efforts to integrate the public swimming pool, which was funded and operated with taxpayers’ money. He had supporters picket around the pool. The organized supporters demonstrated peacefully, but the opponents shot at their lines. No one was arrested or fined, although police officers were present. Monroe had a large KKK chapter, estimated by some in the press at 7,500 members or supporters, causing confusion in this city of 12,000. Williams garnered national and even international attention with the Monroe Kissing Case, the Swimming Pool Incident and the Kidnapping Case. The story of Robert Williams is well documented in the following books: Negroes With Guns by Robert F. Williams, Radio Free Dixie by Dr. Timothy Tyson and Audacity: Story of a Legendary Hero by Connie Williams.

William’s final battle at Monroe took place in August 1961. Freedom Riders, who had traveled from the north to join local black youth in an anti-segregation demonstration, were attacked by whites in Monroe. The Freedom Riders were given sanctuary in the black section of town, and Williams’ armed supporters set up a line of defense on the border between the white and black sections. The events of August 1961 drove Williams into exile in Cuba and later in China. In 1969 he returned to the United States and occasionally returned to Monroe until his death in 1996.

David Ormand Moore, associate professor of humanities at the NC School of Science and Mathematics, worked with A Few Good Men, a local organization, to submit the application in October 2022. Ormand Moore is a graduate of Sun Valley High School near Monroe.

The historical marker will be installed at the corner of Boyte Street and Highway 74. This will be the first Highway Historical Marker for an African American in Union County.

The dedication of the Highway Historical Marker is scheduled for August 26, 2023 and will be followed by lunch. Times and locations will be announced later.