A man of courage and conviction

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 30, 2006

As I stood before the subdued gathering, I concluded my remarks with this illustration derived from my 94-year-old pastor, Reverend C.A. Lett.

Years ago, propeller-driven planes were flown at 27,000 or so feet because they operated more efficiently at that height.

Often times turbulence shook plane and passengers.

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When the turbulence was too much, the pilot would say, “We have encountered severe turbulence.

We are going to rise higher so the turbulence will cease.”

As the plane rose higher, it ceased to shake and peace abounded.

Brother Clarence Williams, “Sonny Boy” to those who knew him as a child, was experiencing lots of turbulence in his life.

He had heart by-pass surgery several years ago.

More recently, he experienced severe kidney problems.

There was other turbulence in his life unrelated to his physical body.

At 71 years, the turbulence became increasingly severe.

So on March 11, 2006, God said, “Clarence, there is too much turbulence in this life.

It’s time to rise to higher heights.”

So God reached down and lifted Clarence Williams higher.

Now, there is no more turbulence in his life.

He is at peace.

I came to Selma in late 1971 and met Brother Clarence some time in 1972.

He was a big man with a strong determination, a rustic confidence and the courage of his convictions.

He and I immediately commenced to work together on various voter registration drives and other initiatives.

We continued for many years.

One initiative was an attempt to organize Dallas County block by block to empower our people.

Another was organizing the Selma-Dallas Black Leadership Council.

Whatever the initiative to lift the community, Brother Clarence was there with conviction.

Brother Clarence Williams was on the front lines fighting for his community well before I came to Selma.

He says Samuel and Amelia Boynton brought him into the Voting Rights Struggle long before the hey day of Bloody Sunday and the Selma to Montgomery March of 1965.

Once there, he never left.

No matter the turbulence in his life, Brother Clarence never ceased working to make Selma/Dallas County a better place.

In his latter years, he worked more closely with Faya Rose, helping to establish and lead the local Chapter of SCLC (Southern Christian Leadership Council).

They took on many challenges with conviction and courage.

I want to share two examples of Brother Clarence’s courage and conviction.

Some years ago, the very powerful Mayor of Selma had done something that he just could not stomach.

He was determined to confront Smitherman about it.

His family, fearing for his life and limb, tried to dissuade him.

He would not be dissuaded and confronted Smitherman, man to man.

His family was most relieved when he returned, alive and well.

He was a man of courage and conviction.

In the late nineties, Brother Clarence became increasingly concerned that the 1965 killers of Reverend James Reeb never received their just due.

As President of the Dallas County Chapter of SCLC, he felt it his duty to tackle that injustice.

So he launched a protest of a local business owned by one of the men alleged to have done the killing.

Often times, he was the only person there, walking to and fro with his protest sign.

Brother Clarence was a man of conviction and courage.

When Brother Clarence was in his late fifties, he became a father again through a second marriage.

He loved this son and was a real father.

I would see him with his son at various places from mass meetings to the streets to stores to school.

This big rustic, determined man was always with his small boy.

Brother Clarence did not commence being a father with a special son born late in his life.

He fathered 16 children and was a father to each.

One son, born early in his life, reminded us how his father took him to mass meetings, stores and other places in the sixties.

He was a father’s father.

As I shared a few words about this man of courage, conviction and service, I could see him in my mind’s eye being lifted to higher heights from this place of turbulence.

I could see him arriving at the Pearly Gates and being met with these words, “Well done my good and faithful servant.”

Brother Clarence Williams was indeed a servant of courage and conviction.