This interview was conducted by Diandra Lashea Smith on March 20, 2010 in San Antonio, Texas as part of Palo Alto College’s History 1302 – Spring 2010 class.
Charles E. Williams Sr. was born May 18, 1937, which makes him 73 years old. Mr. Williams was born in Granger, Texas to Silas and Willie Williams’. He was the youngest of two boys born to his mother and father. His mother passed away when he was two and his father was killed when he was four, leaving his grandmother to raise the two children. Mr. Williams attended Crispus atticus school in Granger, TX which was then a combined elementary, middle, and high school. Crispus Attucks was actually the first African American to shed blood in the Revolutionary War. As a high school level student Mr. Williams was the basketball, football, and track team captains, his main honors and focus in high school, which after then he graduated in 1955 at the age of 18 years old. After graduating Mr. Williams moved to San Antonio Tx two years later in 1957, on hopes of a more productive life. What he sought after he got. He was married one time and had five children of his own, four boys and one girl. Mr. Williams continued his life and became interested in business management. In 1972 he was the first African American to buy property on W, W. White Rd located on the East side of town. which was then and now a beauty supply stores. Mr. Williams invested in many more properties thus fore. In 1983, he built Williams’s car wash on E. Houston St also on the East side of town, but sold it in 1986. Mr. Williams third venture came in 1992, the famous Williams Barber College, which he management over is located on W.W.White road is right around the corner from the car wash he built. The last and final venture Mr. Williams invested in is the Lanmark Coffee and Community Meeting Shop in 2007 located on Montana St. on the East Side of town. The mayor and other hierarchy in San Antonio are regulars in Mr. Williams’s coffee shop. Mr. Williams is still very mobile and has been successful so far all of his life. He will continue to manage all investments on the East Side of town.
So were going to talk about the civil rights Era you grew up in, the success, and barriers you’ve faced along the way.
Okay, you were born in Granger, TX, How was that experience as far as living, and was there any segregation in the neighborhood?
Well, during that time in Era things were very much segregated. It was a small farmer country town where they pick cotton, chop cotton. Black folks couldn’t work they were limited to chopping/picking cotton, except for full professionals like the school teachers, mostly other people did farm work. Umm there was also a little industry there, it was called the cotton mill, and that’s where they would pare the cotton once it was picked, they would separate the seeds from the cotton then it was shipped and I guess made cloth out of, that was a privileged job for blacks to work at the oil mill, at the time it was privileged, and yeah it was segregated. We had special places designed for blacks and of course there were signs on the restroom that sad whites, blacks you know and water fountains with signs over it that said you know, “whites only” that type of thing. Umm I had to ride on the back of the bus, the back of the bus and the front of a train cause the trains were very heated over where coil was needed, so yeah it was segregated.
What were your parent’s occupations?
So how would you describe your family economic status?
My grandfather was very successful and as I got older I began to understand that he was a diligent man he had his own farm of course, back then they had what you call the 1/3 and ¼ Land deal where when the person working got a fourth of the land and the one you were working for got a third but somehow my grandfather reversed that process, he got a third and the other person got a fourth, I don’t know how he did that but my brother and I used to talk about it all the time. He had his own mill, his own tools, and his own equipment like the plows and stuff like that, his own wagon, actually one of the first to have a car! Black man.
Yes, in Granger that was, to have his own car, T Model ford they called it you know and I could remember that, that was an exciting you know, the other black folk as walking you know or either rode horses and things like that.
That’s very interesting, umm what religious faith did your family proclaim?
African Methodist, African Methodist and Baptist.
So were they mostly all African American?
All African American the churches were very segregated a well.
So, growing up attending Crispus Attucks the first black to shed blood in the revolutionary war, how was that experience?
Yeah, it was a good experience. Sometimes you know you can’t miss what you don’t have and uh when you don’t know what’s on the other side sometimes you’re kind of satisfied where you are because you don’t know the difference you see. It was a lost experience. Kids went to school from 1st grade through the 12th so it was a wide range of kids on campus form 1st through 12th, you got a chance to mix and meet, to a certain extent with the other kids. The teachers there were really concerned about the conditions and the students learning, and things like that, um they had track team, basketball, football, things like that, it was all black students on the team, the only time we played against whites was when we had practice games, and a lot of those guys we beat, because we fought hard(laughs) that was a good experience for me.
So as you got older in school did you hold any special honors or belong to any clubs or organizations?
Well yeah, I was a member of the NFA which was a black version of the FFA, future farmers of America. We were called Negro Farmers of America, that was an agricultural class, taught by an agricultural teacher, who graduated from Prarie View A&M, which substitutes for Texas A&M. A lot of folks don’t remember that, but Prairie View was behind Texas A&M because blacks couldn’t go to A&M so they came up with Prairie View, which was for those who couldn’t go to A&M, it was like a duplication of A&M. I participated in the Texas Fair, I raised pigs and I would take it to the fair and I would let them get judged and I won a couple of time with that. I was a track star on the track team, I was also captain of the track team by the time I was a senior, captain of the football team and also captain of the basketball team, it was a modest experience because we were among people who generally cared about us, who taught us good work ethics, taught us to respect others, respect other folks property, and that I cherished because we deserved it. We had community efforts when it came down to disciplining children, um everybody chastise you no matter if they were you parents or not, when you find yourself doing, or you did something that was not right and an adult spoke to you would listen, you respond because you knew they knew your parents, your mom and dad, and the worst thing for them to say was ” I’m going to tell your parents on you”, because you would be in big trouble, now days you tell a child I’m going to tell your parents, they say, “tell em!”
So it seems like you grew up pretty fairly?
Yeah, we did! You know and of course we didn’t really realize that , when you’re young and going through life it’s just exciting and you have dreams and aspirations, we didn’t think so much in terms of what was happening along the lines of racial issues and things like that, after I finished high school they closed my school, the school was integrated, we were merged with a school in Barley, Texas. Before they put the two schools together, they were individual schools that didn’t have enough kids so they moved them to Barley. I never went to Barley though, and of course about 5 or 6 years later, they closed the school.
So, when did you decide you wanted to move to San Antonio?
Well, it’s interesting, I wanted to be a coach, and by the time I graduated, I wanted a scholarship, but I didn’t get the recipient, and I was cutting hair, and my mom told me, “why don’t you go to barber college and learn a trade, you can carry with you?” So that’s how that happened. I moved from Granger to Tyler, Texas and enrolled in Barber College. As I finished I moved back home, just a brief stay, a couple of months, and I had a friend that I went to Barber College with from Oklahoma City and they were asking me to come to Oklahoma and I thought that’s where I was going, but my mom didn’t want me to go. That was too far from home so she said, “well why don’t go to San Antonio for a couple of months and if you don’t like it then you can go to Oklahoma and I won’t say anything.” Well that was 52 years ago and I’m still her. Um barbering was an accident in a sense I liked it and I know I was a good barber, but I didn’t know with barbering material of that kind and attitude and experience that I could do a lot of things while cutting at the same time. It gave me a sense of independence that I really cherish I get to do a lot of things because of those things I got to do and participate in. a lot of sit-in Demonstrations and participate in a lot of boycotts, go to colleges, and ticketing and events for discrimination about not hiring black cashiers and those types of things. I’ll never shall forget, I was in a ticket line at a demonstration and a white man asked me, “Who you work for boy,” and I said I work for Mr. Williams, and I stuck my hand in my pocket and gave him a card, and he said, “well what’s your name?” And I said “Mr. Williams,” so he tore up the card and threw it down to the ground, well that gave me a great sense of pride because what they’d do back in the day is call your boss, and I was a smart boy in that ticket line, they couldn’t just talk to you anyway, you see I was my own boss, so that gave me a good feeling in this profession, being my own boss. For the most part I was happy working along the lines of law.
So speaking of bosses, who was the mayor for San Antonio? What were politics like, were there still rules for African American?
Yep! Like I told you, I rode on the back of the bus in 1957, and there were places Blacks couldn’t go, one that stands out in my mind was Playland Park, not too far off Broadway or Austin Highway and uh it was a nice park, Ferris wheels and all kinds of rides and white folks could go, but Blacks couldn’t go, they couldn’t participate. Uh I don’t exactly remember who the mayor was, but I believe I do remember McAllister, Walter W. McAllister and he was very involved, and of course I worked with Reverend Claude Black rying to change things for African American.
How was that experience, working with Reverend Claude Black?
It was exciting and it was a learning experience because he was so smart, and so talented, he knew exactly what to say and when to say it and not to say it, and I learned a lot of that from Rev. Claude Black. He was in a position, position of independence of a church where most of the members were black, and 51% of that church population was able to participate in the laws of breaking discrimination. Like, you know we couldn’t go to Wally World downtown and sit down and eat, they had a big lunch time! You see and it was a cafe that looked so exciting. We couldn’t sit in the Manhattan Cafe, because blacks were not welcome, we couldn’t go on the first floor of the Majestic Theater that was an area reserved for white people and I believe Mexican American, but blacks were not welcome down there either. We had to go around to the back, and sit in the balcony, very different from main floor seating.
What year did you start working with Claude Black?
Probably somewhere around 1959, somewhere in that area
Do your children aspire to do some of the same things you have done, business wise?
Business wise? Yes I have a son and he lives in Dallas, I wish he was here with me and he’s a good business man, uh he is into realty, building houses and things like that. At one time he was putting together people for conventions and things like that, I can’t think of the right word for it now. I have a daughter, she was down here with me, she seems to be involved in the political field, and we had a long talk about things over spring break, so she is going far with that. Uh it’s very disturbing that not enough kids, African Americans are involved and want to do what their parents are doing and a lot of the reasons for it and explanations, don’t make sense to me. Kids are guided by their peers and false conception of where we ( African Americans) are and our position in the world today, there are so many opportunities, we have the freedom now to be who we want to be in the community, but there are still lines of discrimination when it comes down to economic barriers, there are top dogs in the business’s and there are a lot of unreasoning in these high positions and one thing that’s in reasoning, is we have the freedom to grow, and really reach for the stars you know, but its hard work, and I think because of that young kids aren’t really putting out much.
So, when you began working on your projects, um were there any struggles upon these ventures you have successfully established?
Yes, yes there were some hard times, but back in the rural area we were taught to work, so I have a strong work ethic, I’ve never been afraid to work, I think that’s what made me get through it, because of my readiness, I own up to my responsibility and never been afraid to accept a challenge. I never shall forget when I first bought that land over on W. W. White Rd. and I got a loan to get the building, I really feel like I was put through some unnecessary changes along the way to acquire the loan, I eventually did, I hooked up with some good folks in the county and they helped me bringing the figure together, but yeah, I went through some trying times and I was put through a lot of things that were really not necessary, but the loan was a loan designed for blacks at the time, it was called the EAL Loan it was specifically designed to help blacks manage entrepreneurship.
How did it feel to know you were the first African American to buy property on W.W. White Rd.?
That was a good feeling because I was doing something that hadn’t been done before and to know that I was the first to do it, was a good feeling.
Okay, I say that you are a huge inspiration to many African Americans who want to achieve their dreams, would you say the same?
Yes! And I try to be and I sincerely care, I try my best to share information that will inspire them and to get them to think outside of the box. Visions and dreams become reality. A lot of times we lose our dreams because we are unable to be real. Like one on one, don’t believe along the lines of fiction you know? But think of it, and if it comes to you in a dream, there’s a meaning, and you can do everything in your power to make it come true, some people are not strong enough to do that, you got to truly know who it belongs to, and it belongs to you, and nobody else. What happens is that people say, “well, why are you going to do it, nobody else is doing it.” Then you think of why you’re doing it, but that’s exactly why, because nobody else is doing it! Don’t be afraid to be different. If an opportunity is presented to you and at that particular time you know how to do it, carry it out.
Well, that’s the completion of our interview, I really enjoyed going into your past and present!
Well I enjoyed it, sorry it took a little while.
What I learned from Mr. Williams is that values and morals are stronger for more American back then than they are now. The civil rights Era brought a lot of painful experiences, different than the experiences they go through today, but for some reason through all the challenges they experienced in this period African Americans still rose to the occasion to prove who they are as individuals, and their place in society. Back then work ethics were strongly valued, and that to me is why a lot of success came from that period over time. I personally agree with him about the younger kids in society , needing to reach for the stars, dare to be different, and dream big, no matter what the racial barriers, how dark you skin is never a factor, we are all human and bleed the same blood. No matter what economic barriers are, good will always come out of it. Entrepreneurship is a good way to start controlling your destiny. I also gained a lot of inspirational advice, as I myself plan on owning my own business in the future. This project showed me a different side of the Civil Rights Era, we all read and know when thing when it comes to Civil Rights, African American fighting for their rights, but it was more than that to me, it was and did instill better values and in a sense pushed African American to go beyond the Barriers. His story and many other Americans story showed the good in that Era.
- 1937: Charles E. Williams was born in Granger, Tx to Silas and Willie Williams
- 1939: At the age of two his mother, Silas Williams dies
- 1940: Entered Combined Elementary, Middle and High school, Crispus Attucks
- 1942: Age five Father, Willie Williams dies
- 1951: Became High School level student at Crispus Attucks
- 1953: Became Captain of Football team
- 1954: Became captain of the Crispus Attucks Track and Basketball team
- 1955: Graduated from Crispus Attucks School
- 1957: Moved to San Antonio, Tx
- 1964:Mr. Williams was married
- 1972: First African American to buy property on W.W. White Rd.
- 1975: His first child was born, Charles E. Williams Jr.
- 1983: Built first car wash on E. Houston St.(East side of San Antonio)
- 1985:Mr. Williams was divorced from his wife
- 1992: Founded Williams Barber College Located on W.W.White Rd.
- 2007: Founded The Historical Lanmark Coffee Shop on Montana St. ( East side of San Antonio)
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