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Novella Williams, civil rights dynamo and Philly "treasure," dead at 87

Novella Williams, civic leader and civil rights activist, at a 2011 SRC meeting.Courtesy of Benjamin Herold/The Public School Notebook


Novella Williams, a longtime Philadelphia civic leader, civil rights activist, and mentor has died. She was 87.

Williams was the founder of Citizens for Progress and many other community groups, and worked for years both on the national and local stage fighting the good fight for diversity, human rights, and equal opportunity.

Her motto was, “Power comes from knowledge.”

Of her West Philly-based group, she said, “We care and we worked to save lives, through education, empowerment, good affordable health care, housing, and equal opportunity employment.”

She was at the historic 1963 March on Washington and was back there for the 50th anniversary in 2013.

The current and a former mayor of the city sang her praises.

“Novella Williams was a passionate crusader for community empowerment," former Mayor W. Wilson Goode wrote The Inquirer. "She was a powerful and influential voice for education of children and equal justice.

"She was a fearless fighter for the poor and those who were marginalized. Few have had the impact she did. She is a Philadelphia treasure."

Mayor Michael Nutter, who Williams locked horns with over education matters, called her "a strong woman and a great leader in our city. She was opinionated, focused, and forceful. If she believed in a cause, she'd knock down a wall to make something happen."

"She taught so many of us -- young people at the time, getting into community leadership and politics -- so many lessons about engagement and activism. Novella Williams did her thing. She did it her way, and she made her presence felt all across Philadelphia. She will be greatly missed.”

|<image-caption><p>Former Mayor Gooder praised Williams and her selfless life.</p></image-caption>|File

Her family said she died of heart failure last Friday.

Williams was born in North Carolina and moved with her late husband, Thomas Williams, to Philly in 1948.

The Inquirer reports that she is survived by a son, also named Thomas, and daughters Michelle Murphy and Pamela; and her nephew, Willis Daniels, who she raised, along with the late Frank Daniels and Charles Stewart, when her sister died.

Viewing will be 5 to 8 p.m. Sunday, March 29; and 8 to 10 a.m. Monday, March 30, at White Rock Baptist Church, 5240 Chestnut St., Philadelphia.

The funeral will follow at the church Monday at 10 a.m. Monday.

Donations may be made to the Kim Denise Williams Health and Education Foundation, Box 28788, Philadelphia Pa. 19151.

Kim Denise Williams was the activist’s oldest daughter, who died of cancer at age 40 in 1998. Cancer was one more fight the indomitable Novella Williams took on in founding the foundation.

An online biography atThe Gene Banks Foundationwebsite says this of her amazing life:

“Novella Williams never ran from challenge or adversity, but rather embraced it as an opportunity to make a difference in the world. At the time of Dr. Martin Luther King’s death, (she) was granted an audience with the United Nations and spoke on behalf of African American community and gave testimony on the impact Dr. King’s death had on her people.

“It was through this audience that Ms. Williams was appointed to the NGO body of the United Nations and was asked to address the United States Congress on what action steps needed to happen within the walls of the UN and was also asked to speak to Congress on the topic of equality and social reform.

“In the late 70’s, Ms. Williams led the charge, petitioning President Jimmy Carter, for equality amongst Amtrak Workers. Through her efforts, $500 million dollars were earmarked throughout the nation to commission equal opportunity employment. Ms. Williams also challenged organizations and establishments such as Conrail and The Port Authority to provide fair and equal pay and advancement opportunities to minorities.

“Ms. Williams was responsible for the rebuilding of the YMCA, now called the Lucien Blackwell Library, which provided youth services to thousands of young people. In her quest for equality, Ms. Williams successfully petitioned CEOs of major corporations to build a new YMCA, instead of renovating the old one. She was also the catalyst for change on the 52nd Street Business Corridor in bringing minority owned business to the corridor since the majority of the patrons were African American residents.

“Novella Williams also sought to get the first African American female elected to Philadelphia council and was the driving force in the African American community adoption and re-election of Mayor Frank Rizzo. Through her diligence and tireless efforts in her community, Ms. Williams was granted direct access to Major Rizzo, even an office within the walls of City Hall, and was instrumental in bringing social reform to her community during his regime.”


Listen as Ms. Novella Williams, of Philadelphia, PA, shares her reflections on the current civil rights needs at 50th Anniversary of the 1963 March On Washington in Washington, D.C. http://youtu.be/UcBWReby7Yk

Posted by Women Making History on Wednesday, February 5, 2014

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