Awarded for oratory excellence at the English SIP Symposium.
History of the Award
Charles Lewis Williams Jr. was born in Trough Hill, Virginia, in 1878 to Charles Lewis Williams Sr. and Edmonia Williams, née Nelson. His father, Charles Lewis Williams Sr., was the son of Louisa Williams, an enslaved woman on the plantation of James Keith Marshall of Leeds Manor, son of Chief Justice John Marshall. Williams Sr.’s father was the plantation’ s overseer, a white man named John Strother Rice.
As a young man Charles Lewis Williams Jr. attended Virginia Union University’s Preparatory Department in Richmond. Virginia Union began as a mission school established by the American Baptist Home Mission Society for freed slaves in 1865. The University’s first class convened in October 1899, and Charles Lewis Williams Jr. was among its students. He appears in a1902 photo of the Virginia Union football team.
Williams attended Kalamazoo College from 1903 to 1907, earning an A.B. degree and becoming the first African American graduate. While at Kalamazoo, he played football and was elected team captain his senior year. He was a member of the Century Forum and participated in several oratory competitions, winning the prestigious Cooper Prize in Oratory in 1906. Williams was also active at the local YMCA, as were many students in those years. A laminated business card from 1906 suggests that he was teaching business and English courses at the YMCA in the evenings. His business card states, “Special attention given to foreigners and those not having the advantages of early training.”
A 1907 article in the Kalamazoo Gazette suggests that Williams studied at the University of Chicago during the summer after he graduated. After that, he worked as a secretary at the YMCA in St. Louis, Missouri. A family biography states that Williams taught for a time at the Asheville School, a college preparatory school in North Carolina. Williams returned to the family farm later in life. A registration card from WWII shows that Williams was living in Marshall, Fauquier County, Virginia, in 1942 where he likely lived until his death in 1964 at the age of 86. Charles Lewis Williams Jr. is buried at Mount Morris Baptist Church Cemetery, Fauquier County, Hume, Virginia.
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