“[In 1958 in Monroe, North Carolina] two Negro boys aged seven and nine were playing house with a group of white kids their age…. One of the white girls and one of the Negro boys kissed. The little girl told her parents. Joined by his neighbors, the girl’s father went looking for the boy and his family with a gun. Both boys were arrested and sent to reform school indefinitely. As head of the local chapter of the NAACP, Robert Williams… called in the national office. There followed a classic case of alienation between the Negro middle class and the Negro poor….
“Since the boys were deemed illegitimate, the national office had reservations about involvement in their case, feeling that the boys’ families just weren’t the type of Negroes to shine a national limelight on….
“But an English reporter got wind of the case and decided to visit the boys in reform school. She brought along their mothers, and the photo of their reunion was shown in newspapers around the world. Demonstrations in support of the boys were held in Paris, Rome, Vienna and Rotterdam. … Fifteen thousand signatures demanding their release were… sent to President Eisenhower and [Gov. Luther Hodges]. The boys were released on February 13, 1959.”
— From “Shadow of the Panther: Huey Newton and the Price of Black Power in America” by Hugh Pearson (1994)
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The widow of Robert Williams, Mabel Williams, spoke of her husband’s tenure as president of the Monroe NAACP in an interview with David Cecelski for the Southern Oral History Program in 1999. The taped interview is held in Wilson Library, but you can listen to it online (or read a transcript) here:
You can find other Robert Williams-related material held by our libraries here: