|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.