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Furl Williams: Lima's true partriach


August 25. 2013 7:55AM
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LIMA — Furl Williams had a strong sense of right. And at his death in 1993, most folks thought that his rightousness had made a difference in Lima.It was Furl Williams who had questioned the way African-Americans were treated locally, and quietly protested that treatment.Moving to Lima in 1937, he soon questioned why African-Americans were not permitted to swim at Schoonover Pool. His dogged insistence and polite manner finally prevailed, and after 1940, blacks were allowed to swim there — if only on Mondays.Likewise, he protested a south end restaurant that did not allow African-Americans to eat inside the establishment. Recalling that time period, Williams told The Lima News in 1984 that one day, he’d had enough of that inferior treatment. A regular patron of the restaurant, he decided one day that he didn’t want his sandwich take-out — he wanted to sit down and eat.The restaurant ownership threatened to call the police. Williams told them not to bother, he’d call the police on his own. When two officers arrived, they agreed with Williams that he should be allowed to eat inside the restaurant. The restaurant was fined $25 for the offense.“I went back there one time and ate to see if it did any good, but I really didn’t trust the food after that,” Williams told the local paper.Often, Williams used his humor to spotlight problems. In recalling for the local paper the days of movie theater segregation, Williams said, “the places we as a race were given to sit were more choice seats. I’d take my girlfriend up there in The State Theatre where it was dark, and do a little smooching.”And when Williams ran in 1957 for the sixth ward seat on Lima City Council, many believed that righteous sense would be the balm the city needed.Although he lost that election, Williams did not throw in the towel. He ran again in 1961, at which time he was declared the winner. That decision was reversed when it was reported vote counting discrepencies had occurred.While many protested that call, Williams vowed to fight on.In 1969, a 50-vote difference brought him to victory, and he became the first black legislator in Lima. His platform for running, he told the newspaper, was to bring harmony to local government.“I think the citizens of Lima deserve an administration, both in the administrative branch and in city council, that will work as a team for the betterment of the entire city. I want to be a member of that team,” he said.Further, Williams said, “if I may be permitted to use an expression of the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., ‘I have a dream’ that one day the citizens of Lima will elect a group of officials that will work as a team, maybe not unanimously agreeing, but at least cooperating.”And finding a way to work together was something Williams had done all of his life.Born in 1907 in Paulding to farmers Charles and Luella Goings Williams, he was the 10th of 14 children, and the grandson of a slave. He often spoke of traveling to the big city of Lima as a child to visit a sister who had moved here.At 15 years old, he came to Lima with an eighth-grade education and found work in the city as a hired hand in building the Roosevelt School. A few years later, he found work at the Ohio Steel Foundry, where his skill and personality earned him respect and got him elected president of UAW Local 975.In 1954, he married Daisy Lee Coleman and the couple started a family that would grow to include 11 children.By 1962, Williams had honed his negotiation skills by taking a job as an international representative with the International UAW-CIO labor union.Taking the council job was just one more aspect of life in Lima that Williams helped shape.He served in the local NAACP, as well as Goodwill Industries, the Bradfield Center and the Salvation Army. He was active in the Red Cross, the United Way, Lima Memorial Hospital, Allen Metropolitan Housing Authority, Lima-Allen Community Action Commission and Lima Rotary Club. He was also an advocate of education, and an active member of Philippian Missionary Baptist Church.In 1979, his reputation as a fair-minded and righteous person won him the title of Lima City Council president. As such, he became the first black to win a city-wide election. He held that post until retiring in 1991.Although many asked him to remain in that position, Williams announced that the retirement was necessary as “Father Time is gaining on me. But I don’t plan on sitting down to let him catch up with me.”Two years later, Williams died.His loss was felt city-wide. In fact, within four hours of his 8 a.m. death on Aug. 21, 1993, the word had spread throughout town that Furl Williams was dead.Lima Mayor David Berger spoke for the city, calling Williams a true patriarch of Lima. And to honor him, Berger asked for a minute of silence at the time of his funeral. His casket was flanked by a Lima Police Department honor guard, and city vehicles set up a corridor as his body was moved from the funeral home to its final resting place in Woodlawn Cemetery. Many area residents turned out in the 90-degree heat to pay their final respects.That night, a rememberance service was held at Veterans Memorial Civic Center — one of the many structures Williams had fought to bring to Lima.At his funeral service, Pastor Lamont Monford promised the lessons Furl Williams taught would not soon be forgotten. “Furl, it’s time to pass the baton, and Lamont Monford is willing to take it and run with it. Pass the baton, Furl. Mayor Berger can take it and run with it. Pass the baton, Furl. Keith Cunningham can take it and run with it. Ulysses Washington, Frances Napier, Leonard Boddie, they can all take it and run with it.”





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