Benjamin Franklin Williams, legislator and clergyman, was born a slave in Brunswick County, Virginia, in 1819. He was taken to South Carolina, then to Tennessee in 1830, before being brought to Colorado County, Texas, in 1859. Exactly when Williams married Caroline Williams is not certain, but they had one son, Thomas. After emancipation Williams became a traveling Methodist minister. He was the officiating minister at the Wesley Methodist Chapel in Austin when it was established in 1865; this church, according to the Galveston Daily News, forbade Blacks from attending if they were not members of the Republican party. Combining religion with politics, Williams became a militant spokesman for his race. As early as 1868 he was vice president of the Loyal Union League (see UNION LEAGUE), and as such kept White Unionists abreast of what was happening in the black-belt area. Williams's involvement in politics won him a seat at the Constitutional Convention of 1868–69 during Reconstruction. As a delegate, Williams played an important role in this convention. He served on the Executive Committee and introduced a resolution that would require prospective doctors to be certified by a medical board. He also proposed that the constitution contain a provision banning racial segregation in all public places, and that this provision be enforced by the licensing powers of the state, the counties, and the municipalities. Despite the important role that Williams played at this convention, however, he refused to sign the constitution. He actually withdrew from the convention before it adjourned because of its failure to place a more rigid suffrage clause in the constitution. Williams was subsequently elected by Lavaca and Colorado counties to the Twelfth Legislature (1871), where he was nominated for Speaker and came in third; by Waller, Fort Bend, and Wharton counties to the Sixteenth Legislature (1879); and by Waller and Fort Bend counties to the Nineteenth Legislature (1885). Williams was one of the few Black legislators who expressed an open concern for laborers, both agricultural and skilled. In the Twelfth Legislature he introduced a bill for the protection of agricultural labor, but it was tabled. After leaving public office, Williams continued in his role as an evangelist but also became a land speculator. Williams, along with other Blacks, was instrumental in the settlement and development of Kendleton, Texas. The date and place of his death are not known.
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Austin Statesman, January 20, 1883. J. Mason Brewer, Negro Legislators of Texas and Their Descendants (Dallas: Mathis, 1935; 2d ed., Austin: Jenkins, 1970). Daily State Journal, August 17, October 13, 1870. Journal of the Reconstruction Convention (Austin: Tracy, Siemering, 1870). James P. Newcomb Papers, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin. Clarence Wharton, Wharton's History of Fort Bend County (San Antonio: Naylor, 1939).
Politics and Government
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
“Williams, Benjamin Franklin,”
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed June 29, 2022,
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
Original Publication Date:
October 1, 1995
Most Recent Revision Date:
April 1, 2021
This entry belongs to the following Handbook Special Projects: