HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - Pine Belt civil rights leader Iola Williams died Thursday night at the age of 83. Family members said Williams died peacefully surrounded by family at her home in Lampasas, TX after a battle with Parkinson’s disease.
Williams was born in Hattiesburg on Feb. 2, 1936.
In 1970, she became the first African-American woman elected to the Franklin-McKinley School Board in San Jose, CA. Williams went on to become the first African-American elected to the San Jose City Council in 1979 and held the position for 12 years, including two terms as Vice Mayor of the city.
She also served in several roles for the National League of Cities.
Williams retired from public office in 1991 and returned to her hometown of Hattiesburg. While working in the Hub City, Williams served as director of recreation and community relations.
She later became the executive director of the African-American Military History Museum, which was originally a USO club that opened in 1942 and served as a hangout spot for African-American soldiers stationed at Camp Shelby. Williams saved the building from being torn down and was instrumental in its being transformed into a museum.
Williams also served in several community organizations, including the Hattiesburg Convention Commission.
Rick Taylor, current executive director of the Hattiesburg Convention Commission, said Williams was a commissioner for nine years from 2004 to 2013.
Taylor said Williams was the catalyst for what they call the Sixth Street Museum District and the Eureka School.
Williams’ family released the following statement: