Williams, Romeo Marcus (1919–1960)

By: Peggy Hardman

Type: Biography

Published: February 1, 1996

Updated: August 12, 2015

Romeo Marcus Williams, civil-rights attorney, was born to Josie P. and Milton Williams, Sr., on June 14, 1919, on the outskirts of Marshall, Texas, in a black community called Sunny South. Williams attended Marshall's Pemberton High School, excelling in band, drama, athletics, and academics. His scholastic standing enabled him to enter Bishop College, to pass the Air Corps examination-the first African American to do so-and upon graduation, to enter 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 entered the Lincoln University School of Law in St. Louis, Missouri, obtained his legal credentials, and became a junior partner in the Dallas law firm of W. J. Durham. In 1956 Williams decided to return to Marshall and set up private legal practice. He was the first defense lawyer called upon by students arrested in civil-rights demonstrations and sit-ins in Marshall. On August 16, 1960, while he was driving two clients to their boarding house, his car was struck by a railroad switching engine. Williams and Mae Etta Johnson were killed instantly. The other passenger, Bernice Halley, was seriously injured. The accident 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 that Williams would be remembered as a man dedicated "to the cause of human dignity...the struggle for freedom."

Effie Kaye Adams, Tall Black Texans: Men of Courage (Dubuque, Iowa: Kendall-Hunt, 1972). Marshall News Messenger, August 17, 18, 1960.

  • Law, Law Enforcement, and Outlaws
  • Lawyers
  • Civil Rights, Civil, and Constitutional Law
  • Peoples
  • African Americans
  • Activism and Social Reform
  • Activists
  • Civic Leaders
  • North Texas
  • Dallas/Fort Worth Region
  • Dallas

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Peggy Hardman, “Williams, Romeo Marcus,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 20, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/williams-romeo-marcus.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

February 1, 1996
August 12, 2015

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