OKelly Library

Dr. Kenneth R. Williams

Dr. Kenneth R. Williams


Kenneth R. Williams was born August 16, 1912 in Norfolk, Virginia, to Kenneth and Vandelia Perry Williams. The Williams family later moved to Winston-Salem, where the younger Williams attended Columbian Heights High School. In 1928, he matriculated at Morehouse College, where he received the A.B. degree in 1933. He later earned M.A., S.T.B., and Ph.D. degrees from Boston University.

Following graduation from Morehouse College, Williams returned to Winston-Salem, where he served as history instructor for Winston-Salem Teachers College from 1936 to 1937. For the following two years he taught history at Palmer Memorial Institute in Sedalia, N.C., under noted African-American educator Charlotte Hawkins Brown. A trained theologian and ordained Christian minister, Williams also served as the minister of First Institutional Baptist Church from 1937 to 1948. During World War II, Williams served a 3-year stint in the United States Army as a chaplain. By the end of his tour of duty in the Philippines, New Guinea, and the United States, he had graduated from the rank of 1st lieutenant to major.

In 1946, Williams returned to Winston-Salem Teachers College and served the school in a succession of capacities, including history professor, chaplain, James A. Gray professor of religion, and dean of men. In 1947, Kenneth R. Williams was elected Winston-Salem's first African-American alderman - the first since Reconstruction to hold this position - and in 1949 he was asked to serve as pastor of the West End Baptist Church in Winston-Salem. He held this position from 1949 to 1960. In 1961, the Winston-Salem Teachers College Board of Trustees appointed him interim president, and on November 11, 1962, he was inaugurated as president.

During Williams' tenure, the college's faculty more than doubled, while the number of majors and minors offered increased to 28 - twenty six more than were offered in 1960. At least 10 new buildings were constructed on the campus, including O'Kelly Library and Williams Auditorium, and the first man graduated from the school's nursing program. Williams also presided during an active period for the N.C. General Assembly, which authorized name changes for the school in 1963 and 1969, and in 1972 named WSSU one of the 16 constituent institutions of the University of North Carolina. In 1977, after 15 years of leadership, Williams retired as chancellor of Winston-Salem State University. The following year he was awarded the title of Chancellor Emeritus. He died in 1989.

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