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Lillie Williams, activist who uplifted Black excellence in Kansas City, dies at 96

·6 min read

Lillie Williams was a woman who was fully dedicated to any initiative that she was involved in.

Once, while driving along Benton Boulevard in Kansas City, Williams pulled over after noticing a young woman sitting at a bus stop, juggling groceries, an infant and another small child. She was a stranger to Williams, yet she welcomed the young woman and her children into her car and gave them a ride home.

That’s just who Williams was, family said.

“She provided me with an explanation and the importance of not only recognizing those who were in need, but also stepping up to do whatever I could to help them,” Frank James Jr., Lillie’s grandson, said.

He has many memories of her as a figure in the community that represented perseverance, consistency, and love.

“She always contributed to those who were less fortunate than her and expected no recognition or anything in return,” James added.

Williams’ golden rule was a motto family says she firmly believed in “Do unto others, as you would have them do unto you”. Family says she applied this ultimate rule to just about everything she did in life.

Surrounded by loved ones in the early morning of Oct. 1, Williams died. She was 96.

Williams was born on Oct. 26, 1924, in Kansas City to Bennie Bryant and Florence Adams.

Lillie Williams (right) with her sister Ozell Yates (left) in a newspaper clipping describing them as two of the most popular young debutantes in Kansas City.
Lillie Williams (right) with her sister Ozell Yates (left) in a newspaper clipping describing them as two of the most popular young debutantes in Kansas City.

She attended Wendell Phillips and R.T. Coles for school and went on to Lincoln High School where family says she and her sister, Ozell Yates, too part in many social initiatives. The two were members of the junior NAACP and community activists. They participated in civil rights protests throughout the Kansas City metropolitan area.

Williams’ grandson remembers one protest in particular that took place in front of the historic Emery, Bird, Thayer department store.

“She picketed in front of the Walnut Street entrance of this store because they would not allow blacks to eat in their cafeteria,” he said. “She described the weather as being dreadful that day, raining and cold. She still remained as a fixture in the civil rights movement to ensure that we as Blacks enjoy the basic liberties in life that were denied to our people.”

Protesting was extremely important to Williams, James said. She didn’t want any future generations of Black people to endure what her generation had to.

“She wanted to propel the excellence of the Black woman to ensure the world knew and recognized the great value they possess,” he said.

Williams had a dream of pursuing higher education after graduating from high school, but resources for Black students to continue on a collegiate path were not always readily available, family said. Instead she entered the workforce.

She married Quentin Williams in 1943 and a year later they had their only child, Cheryl Constance Williams.

In 1947, Williams started working with the Department of Treasury at the Internal Revenue Service. Family said she rose through the ranks, becoming mid-level team manager.

During the 1950’s, Williams continued her community activism, becoming a member of the PM Interlude social club for women. This group of influential community women focused on enriching and helping development of the Kansas City community.

“My grandmother’s main reason for joining the PM Interlude club was to further empower more Blacks, and specifically Black women,” James said.

They held fundraising events and club meetings to organize. When it was Williams’ turn, James said, she always went all out.

Lillie Williams
Lillie Williams

“It was all hands-on deck! She wanted everyone to feel welcomed and right at home,” he said.

Whether a business meeting or a party for family, Williams was a hostess second to none especially around the holidays.

“I can remember the smells, the decor and the near identical yearly routine. Next to my mother, there isn’t a woman alive who could prepare a meal like grandma,” James said.

He says he loved her homemade yeast rolls prepared from scratch with copious amounts of love, and great family experiences.

“To her family and friends, she was the person that routinely supported every dream, initiative, or goal each and every one of us would have,” James said.

He adds that Williams pushed them all to be the very best at whatever they were doing and would not accept anything less.

“She saw the potential in everyone and encouraged us all to adopt habits and tendencies that would project us towards accomplishing any goal that was put before us,” he said.

Williams is survived by her grandchildren Noni Newberry and Frank James, Jr.; great-grandchildren Charles Newberry, II, Camdyn Newberry, Faren James, and Frank James, III; nieces Michele Yates, Vicki Yates-Orr, Janita Weaver, and Stevelyn Weaver; as well as a host of other nieces, nephews, great nieces, great nephews, and friends.

Other remembrances

Rubie Clinton
Rubie Clinton

Rubie Clinton

Rubie Algene (Morton) Clinton, gospel singer and community leader, died on Oct. 3. She was 87.

Clinton was born Aug 11, 1934 to Milford and Willetta Walker. She attended W.W. Yates, Attucks and Dunbar Elementary and R. T. Coles High School. She completed training in the State of Missouri earning a certificate for the Foster Grandparent Program.

Clinton worked 51 years in the Kansas City community before retiring in 1996 from Truman Medical Center Housekeeping Department, serving as a union steward.

She sang relentlessly with her siblings in a gospel quartet group formed by her mother. She was a member for over 50 years at Corinthian Missionary Baptist Church of Jesus Christ where she served faithfully on the Mother Board and the Senior Adult Group until her passing.

Family said Clinton was a devoted mother and loving grand, great grand and great-great grandmother. She loved family gatherings especially playing dominos and Pokeno.

Clinton is survived by two sons Billie Clinton and Tyrone Clinton;Eight daughters, Jonita Stevenson, Shirley Marshall, Debra Porter, Patricia Smith, Annette Johnson, Denise Clinton, Barbara Clinton, and Veronica Tuggle-Hall; 36 Grandchildren, 57 great grandchildren, seven great-great grandchildren, and a host of nieces and nephews.

KayVon Jackson

KayVon Jackson, a gifted and bright 15-year-old, died on Sept 28.

Jackson was born on June 16, 2006 to Marcia Holliday and Neil Lewis in Houma, Louisiana. In July 2012, he was introduced to his adoptive parents Toni and Cleotha Jackson in Murrieta, California.

Family says he was a loving and happy child growing up. Even with many limitations in life, including spastic quadriplegic cerebral palsy, his growing personality never failed to shine through. Although immobile, family says he kept the biggest and brightest smile on his face. Although visually impaired, when certain people would approach him, touch him or talk to him, family says his eyes would light up.

Jackson had a hearing disability, but enjoyed the sound of music, people’s voices and listening to cartoons. Though he was non-verbal, Jackson often laughed out loud. It was contagious, family said.

Family said he was given a great quality of life. Jackson liked doing his stretches and getting massages, receiving haircuts, and looking fresh. He enjoyed taking part in road trip vacations, going to the movies and having a movie night at home.

Jackson is survived by his biological parents Marcia Holliday and Neal Lewis Sr.; adopted parents, Toni Jackson and Cleotha Jackson; maternal grandmother, Roberta Long,; siblings, Keveyon Jackson, Karion Jackson, Kyjuan Jackson, Keyon Jackson, Neal Lewis Jr., Micolya Jackson, Jermaine Jackson, Nicco Jackson, Ronald Jackson, Lorenzo Jordan, Brian Jackson, Detra Jackson, Kristen Holliday and Ashlie Jackson; as well as a host of aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, and cousins.

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