Ralph Williams, Sr. (1920 - May, 2000) was the head of the West Oakland Planning Council, and was known throughout the community as the "Mayor of West Oakland." He was particularly known for his work with the council and to realign the replacement for the Cypress Freeway.
After Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in 1968, Williams asked that 14th Street be renamed Martin Luther King Boulevard, and suggested that April 4th (the date of Dr. King's death) be made a national holiday. 1
Starting his work life at five, Williams had a job in the local paper mill where he met his future wife. A civilian job at an Alabama military base led to Williams' transfer to the Oakland Naval Supply Center where he worked for the next 35 years.
A native of Whistler, Alabama before moving to West Oakland in 1953, Williams took night classes through McClymonds High School eleven years later, earning his 9th grade diploma.
Although he never was elected to political office, during the 1960's Williams was a force to be dealt with on community matters, especially through his work with the West Oakland Planning Council. Through his persistent involvement, the City of Oakland created a number of community landmarks, including the West Oakland Health Center, a recreation center at Poplar Park, and a new alignment for the replacement Cypress Freeway.
He was married to Mary Lois, who died in 1996. Together they raised five sons, three daughters and a niece, as well as many more children Ralph Williams adopted in spirit. Williams served as neighborhood scoutmaster, PTA leader and the first black Santa Claus ever seen in West Oakland.
Ralph Williams' funeral was held at McClymonds High School.
Links and References
- Ralph Williams Sr. -- Longtime Leader In West Oakland San Francisco Chronicle May 24, 2000
- Rebuilding Didn't Bring Jobs To a Neighborhood in Need San Francisco Chronicle July 21, 1997
- Hayes, Edward C. Power Structure and Urban Policy: Who Rules in Oakland? McGraw-Hill, Inc.: 1972. 123-5.
- A 'Black Tuesday' Tribute Oakland Tribune April 9, 1968