Ernie Williams, 77, has spent his entire life in Trenton, New Jersey.
Growing up, he endured great hardships and racism, he tells a local newspaper. While doors may have once closed in his face, Williams overcame adversity to become chief of police. Now retired from the force, he hopes lessons from his past will inspire the next generation of African-Americans.
Writes the Times of Trenton:
Despite living in an integrated neighborhood, when a new middle school opened near him in the early 1940s, Black students like Williams’ brother Leon were told they would have no place there and would be forced to trek across town to the all-Black Lincoln school.
To Berline Williams, the boys’ mother, this was unacceptable.
She and another city mother, Gladys Hedgepeth, filed a lawsuit against the district in a case that went all the way to the New Jersey Supreme Court in 1944 before being cited by the U.S. Supreme Court in the landmark 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision that banned segregated schools nationwide.
It’s a heritage of which Williams is immensely proud and one that, after living nearly 80 years in Trenton, he believes is slowly being lost to a rising tide of violence, poverty and ignorance.
“We had a lot of pride,” he said. “This was a great town, and I’d like to see the younger kids come up now and have something to be proud of. These kids are walking up and down the street and all they’re doing is shooting each other. You need some pride in your race.”
Williams continues his inspiring message as one of the organizers of the city’s first African-American pride festival, which will be held on August 20.
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