James Allen Williams, Jr.
|James “Al” Allen Williams, Jr., of rural Bennet, NE was born March 7, 1936 in Durham, N.C. to James A. and Martha G. Williams. He grew up in Chapel Hill where, as a child, he fell in love with nature as he roamed the native forests near Morgan Creek with his dogs. His interest in nature was encouraged by his naturalist grandfather who also taught him to question various beliefs and to examine those beliefs for evidence to support them. One of the things he questioned was the belief in the racial inequality he saw around him. Those two passions (the natural world and racial inequality), along with a love of family, set the trajectory of his life.
He earned a BA degree (1958) from University of North Carolina where he was Phi Beta Kappa, an MA (Cornell), where he was a Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and a PhD (University of North Carolina) in the Sociology of Race and Ethnic Relations. While at UNC in 1960, the Greensboro sit ins began, and Al met nightly with the protesters as their numbers swelled. They were the subject of the first of his 41 published papers. As the protests spread throughout the south, he also attended meetings with leaders of the major civil rights organizations, including Dr. Martin Luther King. In his final year at UNC he was named “Outstanding Graduate Student”. He joined the faculty at the University of Washington at Seattle and then the University of Texas at Austin. There he continued his civil rights work by stopping an Urban Renewal project that would have destroyed an African American community.
In 1970, Al started his 40 years in the Sociology Dept at UNL where he continued to publish and teach. He was a member of Centennial College, a Fellow of the Center for Great Plains Studies, an Advisory Editor for Great Plains Research, and a member of the Faculty Senate. He also coauthored a book, Tolerance for Noncomformity. In 1979, he received the Distinguished Teaching Award. As he became increasingly concerned about the environment, Al started teaching Environmental Sociology and became Director of Environmental Studies. He then served as Chair of the Sociology Department for eight years. His last paper showed the downturn of depictions of nature in award winning children’s books. This paper received worldwide interest. He was a past member of the Lincoln Environmental Advisory Commitee and a recent member of Bennet Planning Commission.
Al was a quiet man with a big heart, a scholar’s mind, and a gift for teaching. Besides his family and students, he loved dogs, birdwatching, reading science fiction, Nebraska volleyball, and chardonnay wine as well as the Insight book club, his writers’ group, and folk music. Al’s last years were spent much like his early ones, walking in his native forest with his beloved dogs. He is survived by his wife of 34 years, Rebecca Haas Williams, and four children: Martha W. Deane (Albany, NY), James A. Williams, III (Venice Beach, CA), John Williams (Kristine) (Basal, Switzerland), and David Williams (Lincoln), five grandchildren: Zachary and William Deane; Addison and Luke Williams; and Benjamin Williams, his sister, Baird Garrabrant (Van Noah) (Raleigh, NC), his beloved dog, Parker, and Blackjack the cat. He was preceded in death by his parents and brother, Charles G. Williams.
A celebration of life is pending. Memorials may be sent to the family for distribution to the Haas Sociology Faculty Award, Citizens’ Climate Lobby, or Hearts United For Animals. Condolences to www.aspenaftercare.com.
Funeral Home assisting is Aspen Mortuary, 4822 Cleveland Avenue, Lincoln, NE 68504. To view an on-line obituary or email condolences please visit Aspen Mortuary’s website at www.aspenaftercare.com.
Condolences for James Allen Williams, Jr.
I am taking this means to extend a most heartfelt condolence and sympathy to the James Allen Williams family. His contributions to the people of our state and nation are significant and meaningful. His life was devoted to meeting the needs of as many of his fellow citizens as he could. He will be long remembered for the many and varied accomplishments that will mark the time he spent in our world. As a member of the Bennet Planning Commission it was my honor and pleasure to work with him on ways to advance opportunities to enjoy the natural world around us. He will be remembered as a dedicated leader to expand hiking and biking potential in areas in which he was most interested. He will be missed.
My deepest sympathy. Al was my oldest friend in Nebraska. We shared a great deal–grad school at UNC, 40 years together at UNL, a love of dogs, nature, social justice for all infrequent get togethers in Bennet. I’m pretty much disabled now–post-polio syndrome–so I doubt I could make a memorial service or celebration of Al’s life, but know that my thoughts are with you.
I am so sorry to hear about Al. He was a wonderful teacher and colleague, and a great friend to the Honors Program, passionate about important issues and inspiring his students to be also.
Please know that I’m thinking of you.
My deepest sympathies for Al’s family. Al was my professor, advisor, and co-chair of my dissertation committee at UNL. I wish I would have made it a priority to stop by to visit him over the last few years, either way, Al will be missed. Thanks for everything, Al! Rest in Peace.
Al left an enduring legacy that touched many through his dedicated social and environmental activism. Very pleased to have known him.
Thinking of Al this Holiday Season. He was my first mentor in Sociology, and is the reason that I am pursuing my PhD at this time. He was a special man and an excellent mentor and teacher. He is very missed.