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Williams, William Taylor Burwell(1869–1941) - Educator, Chronology, Further Successes

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William Taylor Burwell Williams gained distinction as an educator. For many African Americans in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, education served as a way to find professional success. Williams dedicated his life to academia and helped establish schools that educated and thus improved the lives of many African Americans.

Williams was born on July 3, 1869 in Stonebridge, Virginia. He was born to Edmund and Louise Williams, who ensured that Williams would get a sound education. He was educated in the local schools in Millwood, a small town in Clarke County, Virginia. After graduating at the age of seventeen, Williams became a teacher in the public schools in Clarke County. He enrolled in the Nor-mal Course of Hampton Institute in Hampton, Virginia in 1886. After two years, Williams went on to teach at Whit-tier School, an elementary teaching department of the Normal Course of Hampton Institute. In 1893, he graduated from Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts. Williams attended Harvard University and graduated in 1897 with a B.A. During the next five years, he continued to work as a school teacher in Indiana. There he was eventually appointed to be the principal of School No. 24, later named the McCoy School in Indianapolis.

In 1902, Williams returned to the South to work as a field agent for the Hampton Institute and the Southern Education Board, a true calling for Williams. His primary role in this position was to study the educational conditions of Virginia and other southern states and present his findings. His expertise in this field of work was rewarded with his receiving more responsibility in his job duties. On June 29, 1904, he married Emily A. Harper.

Williams became a field agent for the General Education Board in 1904 also, which allowed him to work among the southern African American population where he promoted local activities that encouraged them to pursue education. He also used his expertise in education to assist communities that were working to improve the conditions of their schools.



Born in Stonebridge, Virginia on July 3


Graduates from the Normal Course at the Hampton Institute


Graduates from Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts


Receives his B.A. from Harvard University


Resigns as principal of School No. 24 to become field agent for Hampton Institute and the General Education Board


Works as a field agent for the John F. Slater Fund


Works as a field agent for the Anna T. Jeanes Fund


Accepts appointment as an assistant supervisor of vocational training in the colored schools for the Committee on Education and Special Training of the U.S. War Department


Becomes a consultant for the Tuskegee Institute


Visits Haiti as a member of the United States commissions on higher learning


Becomes the first dean of the College Department at the Tuskegee Institute


Travels to Haiti again


Becomes vice president of Tuskegee Institute


Dies in Tuskegee, Alabama on March 26

In 1906, Williams became an agent for the John F Slater Fund, an organization that worked to help implement county training schools for African Americans. These training schools extended elementary education and eventually would extend to the high school level. Training schools provided an education for African American youth who were often neglected by the state boards, which offered almost no real educational opportunities. Williams worked diligently for the Slater Fund and helped to establish some 384 training schools in thirteen southern states. The Slater Fund was the idea of James Hardy Dillard, who was its director and the president of the Jeanes Fund.

Williams also worked as a field agent for the Anna T. Jeanes Fund in 1910, which was established to provide a structured plan of monitoring the progress of rural schools by setting aside enough money for southern counties to ensure the employment of teachers who were responsible for this supervision. These teachers, commonly known as Jeanes teachers, supervised elementary instruction for the African American schools of the poor South, developed classes that were focused on industry, and promoted the establishment of community clubs. Williams directed the Jeanes teachers in their supervision and, when necessary, assessed the need for more supervisory instructors. He worked closely with leading educators and advocates of education, including whites and African Americans who sought to improve the educational system throughout the south. His meticulous observations of school provisions and recommendations did not go unnoticed. Williams was soon regarded as one of the premier authorities of the southern educational system. He was frequently requested to work for the state as well as agencies in the private sector.

Williams was the only African American to contribute to a report published in 1917 by the Department of Labor on the migration of African Americans to the North. The Department of Labor was interested in studying the increasing migration of African Americans to northern cities after World War I. Williams aided the War Department in formulating a way that the educational policies of technical training could be designed to aid the war needs. The result of this study was a report entitled, “Negro Migration in 1916–1917.” In 1918, he became an assistant supervisor of vocational training in colored schools for the Committee on Education and Special Training of the War Department of the United States. Williams helped to initiate vocational units of the Student Army Training Corps.

In addition to studying the educational system in the South, Williams traveled abroad and assessed educational systems in other countries. In 1922 and 1930, he traveled to Haiti as a member of the United States commission on education, which was established to research the concerns recorded by many Haitians against the educational system supervised by American occupation personnel. Here, the situation mirrored the Jim Crow laws of the South. A vocational education system was maintained that was separate from the national system. The national school system received much less financial support than the vocational schools, contributing to substandard conditions. When Williams presented the results of his findings about the educational system in Haiti, he encouraged the provision of additional vocational and agricultural training for Haitian youth. It was Williams who observed that this increase would do much to promote self-reliant yeomanry there.

Further Successes

In 1919, Williams moved to Tuskegee, Alabama, to serve as a consultant in the educational training department of the Tuskegee Institute (now University). This position was offered by Robert R. Moton, who in 1916 became principal of Tuskegee Institute after Booker T. Washington. Even while working at the Tuskegee Institute, Williams continued to act as a consultant to the U.S. government. Williams became the first dean of the College Department of the Institute in 1927, when the Tuskegee Institute began offering its first B.S. degrees in agriculture and education. Under his direction, the College Department focused on ensuring that the agricultural and education programs were held up to college standards. By 1936, the Tuskegee Institute offered B.S. degrees in agriculture, teacher training, technical arts, and domestic science. Williams was elected to be vice president of Tuskegee Institute in 1941 and served in that capacity until his death.

In addition to being an advocate and proponent of education, Williams also wrote several articles on the education of African Americans. The majority of these articles appeared in a publication called the Southern Workman , and Williams held the distinction of being one of its editorial staff members. He also assisted Moton in establishing the Negro Organization Society of Virginia, which was charged with promoting better schools, homes, farms, and health for African Americans. Williams was also active in establishing the National Association of Teachers in Colored Schools, serving as its president for two terms.

Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia conferred an honorary L.L.D degree upon Williams in 1923. He was awarded the twentieth Spingarn Medal by the NAACP for his outstanding service to the education of African Americans. Williams died March 26, 1941, in Tuskegee, Alabama. His tireless crusade for education helped the educational pursuits of many who came after him.

Williamson, Fred (1938–) [next] [back] Williams, Wilberforce A.(1865–1940) - Physician, surgeon, Chronology

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