Pine Belt civil rights leader Iola Williams dies

Updated: Apr. 5, 2019 at 5:36 PM CDT
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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:

"Hattiesburg held a very special place in Iola’s heart. We made it a point

to send our kids to Hattiesburg every summer while growing up to stay

connected with and to teach them the rich and unique history and culture

that Hattiesburg possesses. We have fond memories of the time spent there

including our years of semi-retirement and retirement. We appreciate the

legacy of the African American Historical Museum and the Senior Food

program. In lieu of flowers, please send donations to the Senior Citizens Lunch

program at True Light Baptist Church. Thank you, Hattiesburg residents, for

your outpour of love and comfort during this difficult time. You are

embedded in our hearts. Our memories of you will live on."

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