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Civil rights attorney killed in accident

August
16
1960

On this day in 1960, civil rights attorney Romeo Marcus Williams died when his car was struck by a railroad switching engine in Marshall. Williams was born on the outskirts of Marshall in 1919. An outstanding student, he attended Bishop College and was the first African-American to pass the Army Air Corps examination. He entered the Tuskegee Army Flying School in 1941. At Tuskegee Williams advanced to the rank of second lieutenant and received the Aviation Administration certificate. After the war Williams returned to civilian life determined to fight the injustice and prejudice he had encountered, especially during the war, by becoming a lawyer. Williams studied law in St. Louis, Missouri, obtained his legal credentials, and became a junior partner in the Dallas law firm of J. W. Durham. In 1956 Williams decided to return to Marshall and set up a private legal practice. He was the first lawyer called upon by students arrested in civil-rights demonstrations and sit-ins in Marshall. His accidental death in 1960 stunned the Marshall community, and the legal cases against the students were dismissed. Shortly thereafter Marshall's public facilities were desegregated. Notables from across Texas attended Williams's funeral at New Bethel Baptist Church in Marshall. Milton K. Curry, president of Bishop College, eulogized Williams as a man dedicated "to the cause of human dignity ... the struggle for freedom."

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