Linda Faye Williams (1949-2006)

Dr. Linda Williams died on Oct. 16. She had been a senior professor of Government & Politics at the University of Maryland. Before that, she had taught at Howard and other universities and had served in senior positions in most of the African American political organizations, notably the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies and the Congressional Black Caucus.

Linda was a fighter. She battled prejudice against Blacks, women, people from tiny, poor Texas towns, activists with PhDs, and professors who spend too much time in politics. She battled stupid policies, shortsighted leaders, and very serious illness. She fought on her own behalf but mainly for her students, her community, and all oppressed people.

But to call her a fighter, while completely true, is also misleading. She was one of the very warmest, funniest, most caring, cheerful, and generous of our colleagues. The picture above captures her wry smile and her fondness for the photographer (who happens to be our mutual friend Margaret Morgan-Hubbard). The books and the punching bags in the background are perfect symbols. Linda was a careful scholar who also took swings at the powerful.

At today’s memorial service, a dozen young African American professors from across the country took the stage together. They were among Linda’s PhD students from the 1990s. She had broken down doors for them, challenged them intellectually, and given them courage. But for me the most moving testimony was about their children. It seems that in homes where a parent has studied with Linda, the children know “Dr. Williams” as a shorthand for excellence. That is an astounding legacy.