By Denise Clay
Memorial services for former State. Sen. Hardy Williams, a man who used his talents as a community organizer, political activist and Renaissance man in service of those who most needed an advocate, were held last Friday at the Sharon Baptist Church, 3955 Conshocken Ave.
Former Sen. Williams, who is credited with creating a multicultural political movement through his 1971 campaign for Mayor of Philadelphia, died Thursday, January 7th, in the Kearsley Nursing Community in West Philadelphia. He was 78.
The funeral was part of a two-day celebration of the former Senator’s life, which began with a memorial service held last Thursday at the Bible Way Baptist Church in West Philadelphia. Speakers including Mayor Michael Nutter, former Mayor W. Wilson Goode, State Rep. Dwight Evans and Philadelphia Daily News columnist Elmer Smith were among the speakers who shared their remembrances.
Sen. Williams devoted his life to helping Philadelphians understand that Frederick Douglass’ assertion that “Power concedes nothing without a demand” was referencing representative government, according to his son, Sen. Anthony H. Williams.
“He wanted people to understand that you can’t complain about your government if you don’t demand anything from it,” he said “He used politics to make demands on behalf of people who felt that they weren’t being heard by their government.”
It was that desire to empower those who believed they were voiceless that informed much of Sen. Williams’ political and community activism. Hardy Williams was elected to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives and organized the Pennsylvania Legislative Black Caucus in 1972 and served in the House for five terms. He won his Senate seat in 1982 and served there until his retirement from elective office in 1998.
Sen. Williams brought his concern for the people into the halls of power without missing a beat, said State Sen. Michael O’Pake of Berks County, a colleague and former classmate of Sen. Williams’ at the University of Pennsylvania Law School,
“Hardy Williams was an independent voice of the people,” O’Pake said. “He was an effective advocate and was highly respected in the Senate. He was a tower of strength.”
But it was his campaign for Mayor of Philadelphia in 1971 that put Sen. Williams into the city’s consciousness. Using an inclusive strategy that brought all Philadelphians together, he mounted what many consider the first credible campaign for the city’s highest office by a person of color. Because he did it without the blessing of the city’s Democratic Party machine, it was further evidence of the senator’s political independence.
But while Sen. Williams political career was something to note, it was his desire to help in the betterment of the African American community that was his true passion, according to those who knew him.
Sen. Williams either created or helped to create a collection of community organizations including the Crisis Intervention Network, Black Family Services Inc., the Urban Economic Strategies Task Force, the Organized Anti-Crime Community Network, Blacks Networking for Progress and the 8th District AIDS Task Force.
As a young lawyer, Common Pleas Court Judge John Younge worked on Sen. Williams’ senate campaigns and in his law office at 3801 Market Street. The battles that the senator took on showed his willingness to further his community.
“He honestly had a passion for justice for African American people,” Judge Younge said. “He never got distracted from it.”
“You have to realize what a brilliant and talented guy he was,” said Alan Fastman, a friend and colleague of Sen. Williams who met him while working on Charles Bowser’s mayoral campaign. “He could have made a fortune, but he lived his life in public service. He never regretted it and made a lot of positive changes as a result. He never made a lot of money, but he did a lot of good.”
Sen. Williams also mentored a lot of young people who went on to have political careers of their own. Among those was State Rep. Kenyatta Johnson.
“He always taught me to put the needs of the people first when you’re out there advocating,” Johnson said.
Sen. Williams was born in 1931, a son of the late James and Frances Williams. He was a graduate of West Philadelphia High School and attended Cheyney University before transferring to and graduating from Penn State, where he became one of the school’s first African American basketball players and went on to captain a championship team. Sen. Williams was also a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania Law School and a member of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc.
The Senator was also a Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Army, serving during the Korean War. He was honored with the National Defense Service Medal, the Korean Service Medal and the United Nations Service Ribbon.
In addition to his son Sen. Anthony Williams, Sen. Williams is survived by a son, Clifford, two daughters, Lisa Smith and Lanna Watkins-Minor; four brothers, Frederick Williams, Theodore Williams, James Williams and Ali Robinson; a sister, Barbara Williams, and four grandchildren.
Funeral services were held on Friday at 10 AM at the Sharon Baptist Church, 3955 Conshohocken Avenue. There was viewing at 8 AM and the burial was private.
The family asked that in lieu of flowers contributions be made to the Hardy Williams Education Fund. Please send all contributions to the GPUAC/Hardy Williams Education Fund, P.O. Box 25250, Philadelphia, Pa. 19119.
“He was an eternal optimist,” he said. “He always saw the bright side, the positive side.”
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