Nellie K. Williams, 91, volunteer for NAACP

October 31, 2002|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

Nellie Viola King Williams, the matriarch of a West Baltimore family whose fervent belief in the value of education inspired her children and friends, died Saturday of congestive heart failure at her daughter's Frederick home. She was 91 and formerly resided in West Baltimore.

A longtime NAACP member, Mrs. Williams was active in churches, schools and voter registration campaigns, and was well known in her Sandtown neighborhood.

Born Nellie Viola King in Greenville, N.C., she moved to Baltimore as a child and grew up on North Mount Street. She graduated from St. Frances Academy and studied at Coppin State College, the Cortez Peters Business School and Baltimore City Community College.

During World War II, she tested equipment at Edgewood Arsenal and later was a psychiatric aide and dental assistant at Rosewood Center in Owings Mills. She also taught at the Knox Business Institute.

"She passed on her vision, her ambition, her perseverance and her love to her children," said her son Charles L. Williams of Baltimore, a lawyer. "She was the kind of woman who, when we didn't have 10 cents in the household, sent her daughter off to New York University. We didn't have money -- yet I never knew we were poor. She imparted her strong values to her children."

Her son recalled a Sunday afternoon years ago when he was ready to give up his goal of a law degree. He told his mother that the Howard University tuition was an obstacle.

"You must go -- for this family," she told her son.

Mrs. Williams was remembered for her role as a nurturing mother and for her community work in West Baltimore.

"She had high expectations for her children. She believed fervently in the value of education -- all of her children were college graduates. She held to the values that improve your life," said the daughter in Frederick, Beverly Crisp Harstad. "She was a people person -- she was social and committed to the civil and voting rights of African-Americans."

Mrs. Williams was the mothers' club president and secretary of the PTA at the Coppin Demonstration School on Mount Street. In the 1960s, she was a volunteer at the office of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People at Dolphin Street and Druid Hill Avenue, where she worked with civil rights activists Lillie Mae Jackson and Juanita Jackson Mitchell. Mrs. Williams often walked through the neighborhood and greeted passers-by.

"She never met a stranger," her daughter said. "She knew so many people. She would talk to anybody. She just loved people, especially young people who called her Mother Williams."

"She went from door to door and encouraged people to register so they could vote. She belonged to Victorine Adams' political club on Carlisle Avenue," said Mrs. Harstad. "She was a loyal person who believed in the value of friendships.

"She took struggling Morgan students into her home and helped them finish college. She didn't charge -- she gave them room and board. She believed so much in the promise of education, especially when you were poor," the daughter said.

"Miss Nellie was a motherly, strong, independent woman," said Daisy Brown, a friend. "She was a matriarch in every sense of the word. She liked having people at her house for dinner. She wanted the best for those she loved."

Mrs. Williams was a member of St. Peter Claver Roman Catholic Church for many years. Later, she joined Simmons Memorial Baptist Church on Cumberland Street and sang in its choir.

She also participated in Waxter Center activities, including its grandparents' program.

Her husband of 42 years, Arthur James Williams, a cook and landscaper, died in 1968.

Services will be held at 11 a.m. today at Unity United Methodist Church, 1433 Edmondson Ave.

In addition to her son and daughter, she is survived by two other sons, Dr. Howard B. Williams of Pasadena and Rodney B. Williams of Baltimore; two other daughters, Margaret Rose King Murray of Raleigh, N.C., and Dr. Sandra Williams Ortega of Marlton, N.J.; 20 grandchildren; and 25 great-grandchildren. A son, James Curtis Williams, died in 1976.

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