Entries - Gender: Male

Watkins, Charles Lee

Charles Lee Watkins served as the first parliamentarian of the U.S. Senate. For more than a half century, he sat at the dais in the Senate chamber, advising hundreds of legislators and ten vice presidents on the Senate’s complex rules and procedures. Charles Watkins was born on August 10, 1879, in Mount Ida (Montgomery County), the oldest of seven children of John A. and Nancy Rebecca (Smith) Watkins. He graduated from the Mount Ida Normal Academy in 1900 and attended the University of Arkansas law school in Little Rock (Pulaski County), though sources differ as to whether or not he graduated. Watkins married Martha Heard Walker on October 3, 1903, and they had one son. Martha died on April 27, 1923, …

Watkins, Claibourne

Claibourne Watkins was one of three native Arkansan founders of the Medical Department of the Arkansas Industrial University, now the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS). Watkins was born on March 3, 1844, in Little Rock (Pulaski County), the second son of George Claibourne Watkins and Mary Crease Watkins. His father was state attorney general and chief justice of the Arkansas Supreme Court. He had two brothers: Colonel Anderson Watkins, who was killed at Atlanta during the Civil War, and Captain Walton Watkins. Watkins was educated in a number of institutions, both private and public. The Civil War broke out just prior to his completing his undergraduate degree at St. Timothy’s Hall in Cantonsville, Maryland. A Southerner by birth and …

Watkins, George Claibourne

George Claibourne Watkins was a prominent attorney in nineteenth-century Arkansas. His partnership with Chester Ashley is one of the roots from which one of the state’s most respected firms, the Rose Law Firm, grew. In addition to his role in the development of the firm, Watkins also served briefly as chief justice of the Arkansas Supreme Court. George C. Watkins was born on November 25, 1815, in Shelbyville, Kentucky, to Isaac Watkins and Marie Toncray Watkins. In late 1820, seeking new opportunities, the family set out for the newly opened territory of Arkansas. They arrived in March 1821, and, settling in what would become Little Rock (Pulaski County), the family quickly earned a place among the town’s most prominent early …

Watkins, Travis Earl

Travis Earl Watkins was an Arkansas native who served in the U.S. Army during World War II and the Korean War. He received a posthumous Medal of Honor for gallantry during a four-day engagement with North Korean soldiers. Travis E. Watkins was born on September 5, 1920, in Waldo (Columbia County) to salesman Joe E. Watkins and Angie Watkins. By 1930, the couple had divorced, and his mother had returned to her native Texas, living at Winters in Runnels County with her sons Travis (age nine), Tris (eight), and Truman (five). The family later moved to Troup, Texas, and in 1939, Watkins joined the army. He served in the Pacific during World War II, earning a Bronze Star during the …

Watson, Jack Hearn, Jr.

Jack Hearn Watson Jr. is an attorney and former government official who served in a number of positions, including White House chief of staff, during the presidency of Jimmy Carter. Since leaving the White House, he has continued to be an active member of the legal and civic communities, both at home and abroad. Jack H. Watson Jr. was born on October 24, 1938, in El Paso, Texas. The son of a navy enlisted man and his wife, Watson grew up in Pine Bluff (Jefferson County). He earned a BS from Vanderbilt University in 1960, and after a stint in the U.S. Marines, where he achieved the rank of captain, Watson attended Harvard Law School. After graduating in 1966, he …

Watson, John Brown

John Brown Watson was president of Agricultural, Mechanical, and Normal College (AM&N), now the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff (UAPB), from 1928 until his death in 1942. Watson was a member of the first generation of black Americans born after the Civil War and representative of that demographic among his cohorts, identified as what Professor Willard B. Gatewood Jr. called “aristocrats of color.” Watson was born near Tyler, Texas, on December 28, 1869, to Crystal and Frank Watson; he was named for the antebellum abolitionist John Brown. Educated near his home, Watson passed the county teacher examination in 1887 and taught  for two years. He entered Bishop College at Marshall, Texas, in 1891 at the seventh grade level and …

Watson, Patrick Samuel Gideon

Patrick Samuel Gideon Watson, the father of Baptist history in Arkansas, was one of the state’s early itinerate ministers and the editor of Arkansas’s first religious newspaper in 1859. Watson was born on May 2, 1816, in Falmouth, Kentucky, the son of local farmer Joseph Watson and Ann Anderson Watson. His writings indicate that he received an excellent classical education. He married Catherine Oldham Harris on March 14, 1839, in Kentucky. They were the parents of eleven children, only three of which were living by the time the family moved to Texas in the 1870s. In 1843, he was licensed to preach by the historic Forks of Licking Baptist Church in Falmouth. Shortly afterward, he and his family joined an …

Watson, Wilson Douglas

Wilson Douglas Watson was an Arkansas sharecropper who joined the U.S. Marine Corps during World War II and was awarded the Medal of Honor for gallantry in action during the fighting at Iwo Jima in February 1945. Wilson Douglas Watson was born on February 16, 1922, in Tuscumbia, Alabama, to Charles Watson and Ada Belle Posey Watson. He was the oldest of five sons and two daughters, and he received a total of five years of schooling amid his labors on the farm. By 1940, the family was living in the Tyronza Township in Crittenden County, sharecropping a farm for Tom Sellers of Earle (Crittenden County). Wilson Watson registered for the draft on June 30, 1942, and he enlisted in …

Webb, Doyle

Doyle L. Webb II is a lawyer and former state senator from Benton (Saline County). He began serving as chairman of the Arkansas Republican Party in 2008. Webb served as Lieutenant Governor Winthrop Paul Rockefeller’s chief of staff from 2002 to 2007. Webb lives in the historic Gann House with his wife, Barbara Webb, who served as Saline County’s prosecuting attorney from 1996 to 2002. Doyle Webb was born on December 3, 1955, in Little Rock (Pulaski County) to Doyle L. (D. L.) Webb and Dolores Cornett Webb. He has one sister, Candis. Webb attended Benton High School, graduating in 1974. His political career began as Saline County coordinator for Ken Coon’s gubernatorial campaign in 1974. Webb earned a BA …

Webb, John Lee

John Lee Webb was a well-known African-American contractor and philanthropist in Hot Springs (Garland County). John L. Webb was born in Tuskegee, Alabama, on September 17, 1877, to the Reverend B. L. Webb, who was a Baptist minister, and his wife, Henrietta Webb. The couple had ten other children. John Webb’s family was not wealthy, so he had to provide for many of his own wants. Webb began studying at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama in 1897 at nineteen years old and was spoken of highly by the wife of Booker T. Washington, founder of the institute. He volunteered for the Spanish-American War, serving from April 25 to August 12, 1898. After the war, he returned to Tuskegee and finished …

Webber, Harold L. “Brother Hal”

Harold L. “Brother Hal” Webber was a popular morning announcer on the Little Rock (Pulaski County) radio station KLRA. A large part of central Arkansas woke up to his broadcast for over three decades. His morning show was always filled with homespun humor, storytelling, and advertisements that were more like recommendations from a friend—all interspersed with a mix of gospel and country music. Harold L. Webber was born in Memphis, Tennessee, on February 19, 1926. His grandparents were farmers in Poinsett County, Arkansas, and he spent time there in his younger days soaking up the rural culture and stories. During World War II, he served in the U.S. Navy Seabees. After the war, he returned to Memphis, where he married …

Weibel, Eugene John

aka: Johann Eugen Weibel
A Swiss-German Catholic priest and missionary, Father Eugene John Weibel founded so many churches and other ecclesiastical institutions that he has been termed the Catholic “Apostle to northeastern Arkansas.” Eugene Weibel was born on May 27, 1853, in the small town of Eschenbach, Canton Lucerne, Switzerland. (His name appears as Johann Eugen Weibel in some German-language sources.) In Weibel’s autobiography, he failed to mention his birth mother’s name, only that she died at age thirty-three, four weeks after his birth; his father, John Baptist Weibel, remarried when Eugene was two. Although he mentions that there were eleven children in the family, he does not indicate where in that order he arrived. After attending Catholic elementary school in his village and a …

Welch, Thomas Rice

Thomas Rice Welch was an early Presbyterian minister and leader in Arkansas. He played an important role in the establishment of Lyon College and served as pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Little Rock (Pulaski County) for twenty-five years. Thomas Rice Welch was born on September 15, 1825, on a farm near Nicholasville in Jessamine County, Kentucky, to John Welch and Elizabeth J. Rice (Betsey) Welch. He had at least four brothers and a sister and was named after his mother’s brother, who was a Methodist minister. Welch was encouraged by his uncle to pursue the ministry. Welch received his early education at Bethel Academy near Knoxville, Kentucky, before enrolling at Centre College in Danville, Kentucky, in May 1844. He …

Welch, William Blackwell

In the late nineteenth century, William Blackwell Welch, a physician, was a leader in the movement to modernize medicine in Arkansas. A cofounder and first president of the Arkansas Medical Society (AMS), he later led the effort to establish a city hospital in Fayetteville (Washington County). W. B. Welch was born on December 9, 1828, in Scottsville, Kentucky, to Christopher A. Welch, who was a farmer, and his wife, Elizabeth Lyles Welch. In 1829, his family, which eventually included two brothers and three sisters, moved to Somerville, Alabama. He attended schools in Huntsville, Alabama, and studied medicine under his older brother. After graduating from Tennessee’s University of Nashville medical department (later merged with the Vanderbilt University Medical School) in 1849, …

Weldon, Casey Bill

Casey Bill Weldon was one of the most talented, yet enigmatic, blues slide guitarists of the early twentieth century. Known as the “Hawaiian Guitar Wizard,” Weldon exhibited a range of material encompassing rag, hokum, and blues, though the majority of his more than 100 recorded songs are considered blues. Though he had a solid body of recordings and played with some well-known performers and bands of his day, much of his life is still shrouded in mystery. Casey Bill Weldon was born on February 2, 1901, in Pine Bluff (Jefferson County), according to blues legend Big Bill Broonzy; some sources list his birthdate as July 10, 1909. Little is known of his youth, but as a young man he eventually …

Wells, George Henson

George Henson Wells was a reporter and editor at the Pine Bluff Commercial and Arkansas Gazette. His long career was marked at the end by his distinguished reporting on two epic federal trials. George Wells was born on February 9, 1938, in Hot Springs (Garland County), the son of George Wells, who was at one time an insurance salesman, and Annette Wilson Wells. While his father worked at construction jobs around the country during World War II, he and his mother lived in Camden (Ouachita County), his mother’s hometown. They lived in an apartment over a grocery store until Wells graduated from Camden High School and they moved to Hot Springs. At Ouachita Baptist College (now Ouachita Baptist University) in …

Wells, Ira James Kohath

A pioneer in education and journalism, Ira James Kohath Wells was a gifted scholar, businessman, and humanitarian with humble rural beginnings. Ira J. K. Wells was born in Tamo (Jefferson County) on July 1, 1898, to William James Wells and Emma Brown Wells. When he was young, half of his leg was amputated after he injured it trying to hop on to a moving freight train. For the rest of his life, he had a wooden prosthetic leg. He finished his secondary education at Branch Normal College in Pine Bluff (Jefferson County)—now the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff (UAPB)—and then went on to earn a degree in business from Lincoln University in Pennsylvania in 1923. Even as a student, …

West Memphis Three

The West Memphis Three are Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jessie Misskelley Jr., who—as teenagers—were convicted in 1994 of triple murder in West Memphis (Crittenden County). Echols, Baldwin, and Misskelley were accused of killing three eight-year-old boys: Chris Byers, Stevie Branch, and Michael Moore. Their trial, which included assertions that the killings were part of a cultic ritual, and subsequent conviction set off a firestorm around the nation and world, inspired books and movies, and led to a movement to re-try or free the three men, believed by many to have been wrongly convicted. On May 6, 1993, Byers, Branch, and Moore were found in a water-filled ditch in the woods of the Robin Hood Hills subdivision less than twenty-four …

West, Dan Carlos

Dr. Dan Carlos West served as president of Arkansas College, now Lyon College, from 1972 to 1988. As stated in Brooks Blevins’s history of the college, the physical and curricular changes, along with West’s administrative style, made his presidency “the most turbulent, the most exciting, the most confusing, [and] the most successful” time in the school’s history up to that point. Dan C. West was born on May 29, 1939, in Galveston, Texas, one of four children of Embry Carlos West and Mildred Louise Junker West. The family later moved to Dallas, Texas, where West attended Woodrow Wilson High School, graduating in 1957. He attended the University of Texas for a year and then went on to the U.S. Naval …

West, Donald W. (Don)

Donald W. West was a farmer, educator, writer, and folklorist who became a local legend in northwestern Arkansas, especially Fayetteville (Washington County). West moved with his family to the thickly forested mountains, abandoned farmland, and isolated hollows of southern Washington County near Winslow (Washington County) in 1938. He published a memoir about his family’s subsistence farming experience and worked as itinerant teacher. (A different Don West was also a writer and proponent of folk culture and rural life who co-founded the Highlander Folk School in Monteagle, Tennessee, in 1932.) Don West was born in Oklahoma on September 12, 1905, the fourth of five children of John West and Mollie West. West was a resident of Garrett, Oklahoma, and Santa Fe, …

West, John (Lynching of)

On July 28, 1922, a laborer named John West was shot to death near Guernsey (Hempstead County) after an argument at a work site over a shared drinking cup. The Arkansas Gazette gives the cause for the lynching as “impudence.” According to the Gazette, on the morning of July 28, John West, an African American recently arrived from Kansas, was working on a paving gang in Hope (Hempstead County). He had an argument with the foreman on the job, Andrew Worthing, another Kansan, who was white. According to the Memphis Commercial Appeal and the Bisbee (Arizona) Daily Review, the argument concerned West’s attempt to use the crew’s common drinking cup. When challenged by Worthing, West declared that “he was as …

Weston, Joseph Harry

Joseph Harry Weston was a journalist who retired to the mountains of Sharp County in 1962 and became famous for a crude but crusading newspaper called the Sharp Citizen. The paper’s lurid headlines and stories packed with scandal and scurrilous descriptions of business and political leaders kept him in trouble with the law. His arrests ultimately led the Arkansas Supreme Court to invalidate the state’s 105-year-old criminal-libel law. In the six years that he printed the paper, he twice ran for governor, unsuccessfully. Joseph Weston was born in Little Rock (Pulaski County) on August 6, 1911. Little is known of his life from then until his retirement to a farm near Cave City (Sharp and Independence counties) except what he …

Wheeler, Henry

Henry W. Wheeler was an Arkansas native who earned a Medal of Honor for valor while fighting with a Maine regiment during the 1861 Battle of Bull Run in Virginia. Henry W. Wheeler was born in Fort Smith (Sebastian County) on September 23, 1841, the son of Hiram Wheeler and Elizabeth Wheeler. His father may have been working as a carpenter during construction of the second U.S. military installment at Fort Smith when Wheeler was born, but the family had returned to his father’s native Maine by 1860; at that time, Hiram Wheeler recorded 1,800 in real property and $2,000 in personal property in Bangor. Henry Wheeler, age eighteen, was working as a clerk, and the family included a second …

Wheeler, Lloyd Garrison

Lloyd Garrison Wheeler was a prominent and trailblazing African-American lawyer, political figure, and businessman in Illinois and Arkansas. Lloyd G. Wheeler was born in Mansfield, Ohio, on May 29, 1848. His father was active in the Underground Railroad, but when Ohio passed a law making the harboring of slaves illegal, the family relocated to Chatham, Canada, where Wheeler received his early education. When his mother died, he returned to the United States, settling in Chicago, Illinois. There, he worked at a variety of jobs, including on the railroad and as a shoe black. Throughout this period, his greatest ambition was a career in law. He became the first black mail carrier in Chicago while studying law in the office of …

Whipple, Win “Skinny”

aka: James Winfield Whipple
James Winfield “Skinny” Whipple of Arkadelphia (Clark County) was a track and field star in high school and college. He set numerous records in the broad jump while at Arkadelphia High School and at Louisiana State University. He set an Arkansas high school long jump record of twenty-four feet, which stood for more than fifty years. Win Whipple was born in Crowley, Louisiana, on September 10, 1915, to Fredrick and Pearl Maxwell Whipple. He had three sisters and two brothers. Shortly after Winfield’s birth, the family moved to Arkadelphia, where his father opened a restaurant. At Arkadelphia High School, Whipple participated in football, basketball, and track and field. Although he trained in all of those areas, the broad jump (now …

White, Frank Durward

Frank Durward White was best recognized as the little-known Republican candidate who defeated Bill Clinton in 1980 after Clinton had served only one term as governor. White himself was limited to one term when Clinton reclaimed the office of governor in 1982. Though his tenure in office was marked mostly by his support of teaching “creation science” in schools, White later became the grand old father of the Grand Old Party (GOP), known for his expansive sense of humor and his ability to relate to people of all political leanings. Born on June 4, 1933, in Texarkana, Texas, to Durward Frank Kyle and Ida Bottoms Clark Kyle, White was given the name Durward Frank Kyle Jr. His father died when …

White, Hercules King Cannon

Hercules King Cannon White was a Civil War soldier and guerrilla, a prominent figure in the Brooks-Baxter War during Reconstruction, and a six-term mayor of Pine Bluff (Jefferson County). Hercules King Cannon White was born on April 4, 1845, in Louisville, Kentucky, the fifth of nine children of James M. White and Dorcas Trimble White. When the Civil War began, he ran away from home and, in March 1861, joined Company E of the Second Kentucky Infantry (CS), but his father found him and had him released from service on the grounds that he was only fifteen years old. The youth soon joined Company C of the First (Helm’s) Kentucky Cavalry, and he was captured at Louisville on November 26, …

Whiteside, John Garrett

John Garrett Whiteside was a congressional secretary who served many of Arkansas’s delegation of U.S. representatives and senators from 1907 through 1947. In the era when ninety-six senators represented the forty-eight states, he was often called “the ninety-seventh senator.” In a twist of history, he also participated in the declaration of both world wars. Garrett Whiteside was born in 1885 in Nashville (Howard County). Whiteside’s father, John Elkanah Whiteside, was a clerk in Robert Burns’s store at Moscow (Nevada County). Whiteside served for a time as a court reporter, but little is known of his early life until he arrived in Washington DC on March 4, 1907, as secretary to Representative Ben Cravens of Fort Smith (Sebastian County), from Arkansas’s …

Whittington, Hiram Abiff

Hiram Abiff Whittington was a businessman, politician, and philanthropist. He established the state’s first lending library, ran several businesses in Hot Springs (Garland County), and served as a state representative. He donated land to both the First Presbyterian Church and St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Hot Springs. His letters to his family provide a wealth of information about life in early frontier Arkansas. Hiram Whittington was born January 14, 1805, in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of William Whittington Jr., a Puritan schoolmaster, and Hepsabeth Lincoln. He had four brothers and five sisters. At age fifteen, Whittington learned the printing trade and found a job with the Nantucket Enquirer, where he stayed three years. He moved to Brooklyn, New York, where …

Whitworth, William Alvin

William Alvin Whitworth began his newspaper career in Little Rock (Pulaski County) when he was a high school student. He has come to be recognized as one of the nation’s most reputable journalists, having been a writer and associate editor of the New Yorker and editor-in-chief of the Atlantic Monthly. Bill Whitworth was born on February 13, 1937, in Hot Springs (Garland County). He attended Central High School in Little Rock, where he also spent time working as an advertising department copy boy for the Arkansas Democrat. He attended the University of Oklahoma (OU) at Norman. During summers and a year he took off from school, Whitworth continued to work at the Democrat with editor Roberta Martin and photographer Will …

Williams, C. Fred

Dr. C. Fred Williams was a professor of history who chaired the University of Arkansas at Little Rock (UA Little Rock) history department through its largest expansion. Williams authored several works on Arkansas and served in many capacities at UA Little Rock; he also volunteered his services as a consultant for the Little Rock School District, the Arkansas Historic Preservation Society, the Old State House Museum, Ouachita Baptist University, the Arkansas Humanities Council, and the Historic Arkansas Museum. Williams was the recipient of the Arkansas Historical Association’s lifetime achievement award. Charles Fredrick Williams was born in Allen, Oklahoma, on December 24, 1943, to Charles H. Williams and Willie Mae Williams. He had two brothers and five sisters. Williams married Glenda …

Williams, Claude Clossey

Claude Clossey Williams was a Presbyterian minister and human rights activist who was long involved in the civil rights movement. In addition, he was an active labor organizer and served as national vice president of the American Federation of Teachers. Claude Clossey Williams was born on June 16, 1895, in Weakley County, Tennessee, to Jess Williams and Minnie Bell Galey Williams. His parents were tenant farmers and sharecroppers who were members of the fundamentalist Cumberland Presbyterian Church. In 1910, he left his family and moved in with cousins, working on their farm. During the winters, he worked as a railroad laborer, carpentry assistant, and painter. He also heaved coal for Mississippi River steamboats. In 1916, with the United States on …

Williams, Harold Gene

Harold Gene Williams was a promoter of country music, a radio and television personality, and a businessman, becoming the host of the most widely syndicated country music television show outside of Nashville, Tennessee. Gene Williams was born on January 3, 1938, in Tyronza (Poinsett County) to Abe Rubel Williams and Myrtis Elease Williams, both Mississippi natives. He was one of three children. His father was a farmer and carpenter. As a boy, Williams helped his family in the cotton fields. Williams and his family moved to Dyess (Mississippi County), where they had purchased land, in 1943. Williams attended high school in Dyess, where he began his lifelong obsession with music. He also excelled as a basketball player and wrote for …

Williams, Hubert Ethridge (H. E.)

Hubert Etheridge Williams was a twentieth-century religious, educational, and civic leader. He founded what is now Williams Baptist University and made an unsuccessful race for the Democratic nomination for governor in 1960. In 1941, he became the youngest college president in the nation. Hubert Etheridge (H. E.) Williams was born on April 8, 1913, in Casa (Perry County) to Robert L. Williams and Anna Emma Williams. Robert Williams, who was a Baptist deacon, had progressive leanings, which he instilled in his son. Williams graduated from Casa High School and enrolled at Arkansas Polytechnic College—which later became Arkansas Tech University—in Russellville (Pope County). He also attended Ouachita Baptist College—which later became Ouachita Baptist University—in Arkadelphia (Clark County), and the George Peabody …

Williams, J. Mayo “Ink”

J. Mayo “Ink” Williams was the first African-American producer at a major record label and the most successful record producer of music by black performers, particularly blues and jazz, from the 1920s through the 1940s. The son of Daniel and Millie Williams, J. Mayo Williams was born in Pine Bluff (Jefferson County) on September 25, 1894. He left Pine Bluff with his mother at age seven after his father was murdered in a shooting at the local railway station. After moving to Monmouth, Illinois, he attended public schools, where he excelled in academics and football. In 1916, he enrolled at Brown University, where he became a star athlete. In the early 1920s, Williams became one of the first black players in the National …

Williams, J. Paul

J. Paul Williams made notable contributions to the field of church music. His catalog of published lyrics exceeds 925 songs, running the gamut of sacred and secular texts. A leader of choral clinics and composer symposiums, he was also a member of the American Society of Composers and Publishers (ASCAP). James Paul Williams was born in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, on December 29, 1937. He was the only child of Ferris Woodrow Williams (a taxi driver) and Violet Simonton Williams (a bank supervisor). He was a member of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Oklahoma City until he left for college. Williams admired the church’s minister of music, and he decided to pursue that career, even though he had never had a …

Williams, Jack

Jack Williams was a U.S. Navy corpsman from Harrison (Boone County) who received a posthumous Medal of Honor for his heroic actions in ministering to wounded U.S. Marines during the fighting on Iwo Jima in 1945. Jack Williams was born on October 18, 1924, in Harrison, the son of blacksmith and machinist William O. Williams and Dorothy Lee Williams. He had a younger sister, Fern. The Williams family lived at 420 North Second Street in Harrison, and Jack Williams worked at the Lyric Theater. He attended Harrison High School, where he was a member of the Future Farmers of America. He graduated in 1943. Eighteen-year-old Williams registered for the World War II draft on December 23, 1942. He did not …

Williams, Jason Donald

El Dorado (Union County) native Jason Donald Williams is a pianist, singer, and songwriter based in Memphis, Tennessee, whose music combines elements of rockabilly, boogie-woogie, rock and roll, country, and jazz. Often compared to Jerry Lee Lewis, Williams is known for his dynamic piano-playing style and outlandish stage antics (including balancing items on his head and tap-dancing). Williams’s inspirations include Leo Kottke, John Fahey, and Memphis Slim. Jason D. Williams was born on January 28, 1959, in El Dorado and is the adopted son of Henry J. Williams Jr. and Dorothy Carpenter Williams. Williams learned to play the piano by ear when he was two years old and received a piano at the age of three. He took lessons from …

Williams, Jeff

aka: Thomas Jefferson Williams
Thomas Jefferson (Jeff) Williams was a farmer, preacher, and Union officer in the Civil War. He serves as an example of mountain Unionists, and his experiences show how the Civil War affected farm families in northern Arkansas. Jeff Williams was born in Caswell County, North Carolina, the son of Nathan Williams and Rebecca (Jackson) Williams, a Cherokee Indian. During his childhood, the family moved to Franklin County, Tennessee. Williams married Margaret Ann Hill there in 1832, and the couple had thirteen children. Williams saw Arkansas for the first time in the spring of 1838, when he and two of his brothers formed part of a Tennessee militia company that escorted several hundred Cherokees west to Indian Territory. Six years later, following …

Williams, John Gilbert

A champion of the modern approach to architectural design, John Gilbert Williams was an architect, landscape architect, and the founding faculty member of the Department of Architecture at the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County). John G. Williams was born on April 30, 1915, in Van Buren (Crawford County) to Vera Jane Wallace Williams and Charles Bunyan Williams; he had one older brother. He studied engineering at Arkansas Polytechnic College (now Arkansas Tech University) in Russellville (Pope County) before pursuing his bachelor’s degree in architecture from Oklahoma Agricultural and Mechanical College (now Oklahoma State University). After graduating in 1940, he returned to Russellville to teach drawing and math at Arkansas Polytechnic College for two years. While in Russellville, he …

Williams, Lenny

Soul singer Lenny Williams is an influential rhythm and blues (R&B) artist who is best known for his time as the lead singer of funk band Tower of Power in the mid-1970s. He pursued a solo career after leaving the band. He was inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame in 2012. Leonard Charles (Lenny) Williams was born on February 6, 1945, in Little Rock (Pulaski County); his family later moved to Oakland, California. He learned to play trumpet in elementary school. He started singing in church and considered becoming a minister before deciding to pursue a career in secular R&B. Williams made connections with Bay Area musicians, the most notable being Sly Stone (who fronted the legendary R&B …

Williams, Miller

aka: Stanley Miller Williams
Stanley Miller Williams, known professionally as Miller Williams, was one of the foremost American poets of the post–World War II era. For thirty-three years, he was a professor of English, foreign languages, and comparative literature at the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County) and was a key figure in the university’s nationally known programs in creative writing and translation. He was the author, editor, or translator of over thirty volumes of poetry, literary criticism, and fiction. Miller Williams was born on April 8, 1930, in Hoxie (Lawrence County) to Ernest Burdette and Ann Jeanette Miller Williams. In his early years, he lived in five Arkansas towns, where his father served as a Methodist minister. After graduating from high …

Williams, Robert Lee, II

Robert Lee Williams II is a leading figure in American psychology known for his work in the education of African-American children and in studying the cultural biases present in standard testing measures, especially IQ tests. He was inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame in 2011. Robert Lee Williams was born on February 20, 1930, in Little Rock (Pulaski County). His father, Robert L. Williams, worked as a millwright and died in 1935; his mother cleaned houses. He had one sister. He graduated from Dunbar High School at age sixteen and attended Dunbar Junior College for a year before dropping out, discouraged by his low score on an IQ test. He married Ava L. Kemp in 1948. They have …

Williams, Samuel Woodrow

Samuel Woodrow Williams was an African-American Baptist minister, college professor, and civil rights activist who had a major impact on race relations in the city of Atlanta, Georgia, from the mid-to-late 1950s until his sudden death in October 1970. He was inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame in 2009. Samuel Woodrow Williams was born on February 20, 1912, in Sparkman (Dallas County), the oldest of the eight children of Arthur Williams and Annie Willie Butler Williams. As a child, he enjoyed hunting, fishing, and playing baseball and basketball, but nothing gave him as much pleasure as reading; over his lifetime, he amassed a collection of more than 1,000 volumes. Lessons about racism came early for Williams. Before he …

Williams, Sidney Banks, Jr.

Sidney B. Williams Jr. was a pioneering African-American athlete as well as an accomplished businessman and attorney. The first black man to quarterback a Big Ten team when he was at the University of Wisconsin, he later combined his training in chemical engineering with a law degree to become a leading patent attorney. Sidney Banks Williams Jr. was born on December 31, 1935, in Little Rock (Pulaski County) to Sidney B. Williams Sr. and Eloise Gay Williams. He grew up in Little Rock as the only child in a single-parent household, being raised by his mother. Williams graduated from Dunbar High School in 1954. At Dunbar, he was president of the senior class and also starred in football, basketball, and …

Williams, Sterling B.

Dr. Sterling Williams was a groundbreaking leader in the field of obstetrics and gynecology (OB-GYN) who served in several important roles in national organizations dedicated to medicine and medical education. In addition, he was a gifted vocalist who performed with numerous choral groups. Sterling B. Williams was born in Little Rock (Pulaski County) on April 3, 1941. He grew up in Little Rock and graduated from Horace Mann High School. He earned a bachelor’s degree in zoology from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, followed by a master’s degree in physiology from Northern Illinois University in 1966 and an MD from what is now the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) in 1973. He also completed work toward his …

Williamson, “Sonny Boy”

aka: Aleck Miller
Sonny Boy Williamson first became famous as a blues harmonica player in 1941 on the groundbreaking King Biscuit Time radio program (often credited as the first regularly scheduled blues radio show) broadcast by station KFFA in Helena (Phillips County). Williamson’s fame spread, particularly through Europe, in the 1960s and has continued to grow since his death. The annual King Biscuit Blues Festival in Helena-West Helena still features his music. Williamson went to great lengths to mislead would-be biographers, and facts about his life are difficult to verify. His real name was Aleck Miller; he was apparently sometimes called Rice, and he was most likely born in 1912 in Glendora, Mississippi, to Millie Ford. He took his stepfather Jim Miller’s surname. As a very young child, …

Williamson, Corliss Mondari

Corliss Mondari Williamson is a retired National Basketball Association (NBA) player from Russellville (Pope County). During his basketball career, Williamson played for the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County) and helped the Razorbacks win the 1994 National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) National Basketball Championship. Corliss Williamson was born on December 4, 1973, in Russellville, one of two sons of Jerry and Bettye Williamson. During his career at Russellville High School, Williamson earned all-conference and all-state honors three times. During both the 1990–91 and the 1991–92 seasons, Williamson was awarded the Gatorade National Player of the Year Award. During his senior year, he averaged twenty-eight points and nine rebounds per game. He also holds the record for most points …

Wilshire, William Wallace

William Wallace Wilshire was a Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives. He represented the Third District of Arkansas in the Forty-Third and Forty-Fourth Congresses, serving from 1873 to 1874 and from 1875 to 1877. W. W. Wilshire was born on September 8, 1830, in Shawneetown, Illinois, to William Wilshire and Mary Akers Wilcher (the spelling of the name seems to have varied over the generations). He was educated in the local schools before heading to California in 1852 to prospect for gold. He returned to Illinois in 1855, pursing coal mining and mercantile endeavors in Port Byron while also studying law. His was admitted to the state bar in 1859, but his legal career was interrupted by the …

Wilson, Alexander (Lynching of)

On October 20, 1919, an African-American man named Alexander (Alex) Wilson was lynched near Marianna (Lee County) for allegedly murdering Ruth Murrah (identified in many newspaper articles as Rosa or Rose), who was about nineteen years old. Wilson had attacked Ruth, who was killed, and a relative named Estelle, who escaped. There was a Murrah family in Lee County as early as 1880. Charles Murrah was working as a farm laborer in Bear Creek Township and living with his wife, Celia, and their one-year-old daughter, Mary. A family member (probably a daughter) named Clara Belle, age fourteen, married thirty-one-year-old William Clifton in August 1893. By 1900 Murrah, age fifty-four, owned his own farm in Bear Creek Township. Also in the …