About Franklin H. Williams

A Man of Vision and Purpose

williams seatedThe Franklin H. Williams Judicial Commission is named in honor of the distinguished attorney and civil rights leader, Franklin H. Williams. In 1988, Chief Judge Sol Wachtler appointed Mr. Williams chair of the New York State Judicial Commission on Minorities responsible for conducting extensive research on the perception and treatment of minorities in the court system.

A Native New Yorker, Mr. Williams graduated from Lincoln University in 1941. Thereafter, he received his law degree from Fordham University in 1945. He served as an assistant counsel to Thurgood Marshall, special counsel to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People ("N.A.A.C.P."). From 1950 to 1959, Mr. Williams was the Director of the west coast N.A.A.C.P and was credited with major inroads in the civil rights movement involving cases on school desegregation and restrictive covenants. Indeed, Mr. Williams played a significant role in battling a once common practice of systematically excluding African Americans from juries. Forty years before the Supreme Court formally ended that practice in Batson v. Kentucky, Mr. Williams was effectively arguing the same issue.

Mr. Williams was also instrumental in the development of the Peace Corps and eventually became the Peace Corps Regional Director for Africa. The Peace Corps currently honors his memory with the Franklin H. Williams Awards given thus far to over 90 outstanding returned Peace Corps Volunteers.

Franklin H. Williams went on to serve as the United States Ambassador to Ghana. His contributions as Ambassador were recognized by the State Department, which presented him with Distinguished Service Award, and he was honored by numerous Ghanaian tribes and communities.

Williams assumed the Directorship of the new Urban Center at Columbia University in 1968. The following two years were marked by innovative changes in personnel utilization and curriculum, and the publication of a major study, “The Uses of the University.”

From 1987 to 1990, Williams chaired the New York State Judicial Commission on Minorities, which studied the treatment of minority group members in state courts. The study resulted in 1991 report which revealed a severe lack of diversity on the bench and in management positions and a widespread perception of racial bias in the courts. To address the issues raised in the 1991 report, this Commission was established as permanent entity in the courts and named in honor of attorney-statesman Franklin H. Williams.

"…as we look to the new century, creation of an atmosphere without even the appearance of racial bias must be the prime objective of our courts…we should not open the wound unless we are prepared to heal it."
— Franklin H. Williams