Documenting the American South Logo
oral histories of the American South
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Mabel Williams, August 20, 1999. Interview K-0266. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Robert Williams's activism troubles some of his black peers

Robert's activism troubled some African Americans, Williams remembers. Her father, in particular, chided Robert for calling whites "billy goats." He had not heard the word "bigot" before.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Mabel Williams, August 20, 1999. Interview K-0266. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

MABEL WILLIAMS:
I remember after Robert and I got married. And one thing that brought the realization to me that this, you know, I was in a different situation was when Robert was writing letters to the editor. And I don't remember what the first letters were about. But I remember Robert's father—. Well, first of all, Robert's father telling me in front of Robert, said, "You know that man thinks he ought to be president—he ought to be president of the United States." That he should be president of the United States. And he was talking about his son, Robert, you know. And Robert chimed up and said, "Well, why shouldn't I be? I'm a man just like they are." You know. "So, yeah, I think I'm good enough to be president of the United States." Well—
DAVID CECELSKI:
Yeah.
MABEL WILLIAMS:
That was something. My father called me one day and said—when we were visiting he said—"You need to tell Robert to stop calling these people billy goats." And I said, "What are you talking about?" Somebody had told him that Robert wrote in the paper that these Monroe white folks were billy goats. And I couldn't understand what it was he was talking about. He said, "They are bigots." [Laughter] But my father was really afraid that Rob—he said, "That boy's going to get in serious trouble calling these folks billy goats and going on." [Laughter] Which billy goat was an apt term for them because they were—
DAVID CECELSKI:
Oh, I like that. I like that.
MABEL WILLIAMS:
But his rejection of the way people were treating him and his coming home and talking about it. Because he was out there trying to get employment, trying to get his G. I. bill thing together, trying—. And he was running into all kinds of problems and he would come home and talk about it. And tell me what was going on, you know. And the things that he had faced during the day whether it be at the veterans' place where he was trying to get his veterans' allotment. Or, I think they call it a 52/20 or something like that that you get twenty dollars for fifty-two or fifty-six weeks, something like that, 56/20. And so he'd come home and tell us about the problems he was encountering. But, in the meantime, he was still writing letters to the editor and complaining about just simple things: stories he would read in the newspaper of something happening, and just complaining in general about the plight of black folks.