Robert Williams , in full Robert Franklin Williams (born February 26, 1925, Monroe, North Carolina, U.S.—died October 15, 1996, Baldwin, Michigan), American civil rights leader known for taking a militant stance against racism decades before the Black Power and black nationalist movements of the late 1960s and early ’70s adopted similar philosophies. As early as the late 1940s, when the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) began investigating him, Williams was advocating armed self-reliance for migrant labourers and victims of civil rights abuses—views that were uncommon at the time among civil rights activists.
Williams was the son of a railroad worker. After working at various factory jobs and serving in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1954 to 1955, Williams returned to his North Carolina birthplace, Monroe, in 1957 to head the local branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Biographers say that the first thing Williams saw when he got off the bus in his hometown was the police chief of Monroe (Jesse Helms, Sr., the father of the future U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms, Jr.) beating a black woman. Williams later called that a defining moment in his life.
Williams first gained international media attention in early 1958 when Monroe refused to integrate a public swimming pool built with federal tax funds. When African Americans, led by Williams, refused to accept a promise of building a separate pool for blacks at an unspecified future date, the town filled in the pool with concrete rather than allow it to be integrated.
In October 1958 Williams advocated on behalf of two African American boys, aged seven and nine, who were charged with rape and jailed after the nine-year-old reportedly allowed a six-year-old white girl to kiss him on the cheek. The boys were sentenced to reform school, where they were to stay until age 21. With Williams’s intervention, they were released after four months. In the spring of 1959, Williams was again the subject of national attention when the NAACP