A longtime Midway resident who bridged racial divides prior to the civil-rights movement passed away last week, but his name will live on in the minds of those who frequently drive the Highway 84 overpass known as “McIntosh Mountain.”
The overpass was named in May for Clarence Williams Sr., a Baxley native who moved to Liberty County in 1951 as the County Extension Agent for Negro Work, a role in which he inoculated livestock owned by black and white farmers.
For his work with animals, Williams was known as the “Horse Doctor.” But he also was significant in advancing the civil-rights movement on a local level.
His youngest daughter, Liberty Elementary School teacher Marsha Simmons, reflected on her father.
“I want people to remember that he was a quiet giant …,” Simmons said. “You know, a lot of times when a person lives the legacy that their parents left for them, that was not the case for him.
“He came to Liberty County, and everything that was earned and was nobody here to lay this foundation. It was something that he did.”
Simmons said one of her father’s shining accolades was when he served as the grand marshal of the Liberty County Martin Luther King Jr. Annual Parade in 2008.
State Rep. Al Williams, D-Midway, who is not related to Clarence Williams Sr. or his family, said the leader was one of the most inspiring people in his life.
“On a personal note, he was the first person who drove me to Atlanta, took me to Atlanta to hear Martin Luther King speak,” Al Williams said, adding he was in the 10th grade at the time and it was in 1963.
Clarence Williams Sr. and his wife Bessie, to whom he was married for 66 years, had hosted King in their Midway home on at least one occasion with civil-rights advocates Septima Clark, Andrew Young and the Rev. B.J. Johnson, Al Williams said.
“He was a charter member of the Liberty County NAACP,” Al Williams said. “It was 1953 when the branch was formed.”
After Clarence Williams Sr. retired from the extension in 1975, he worked for the Community Block Grant Program and helped more than 40 families in the Midway, Screven Fork and Holmestown communities receive free homes or renovations to their existing structures.
“He encouraged young people to get involved and become economically self-sufficient,” Al Williams added.
Simmons supported that statement by sharing her parents’ dedication to education.
“He and my mother, who was a retired teacher of 37 years, … they just laid a foundation and for us to understand how important education is, and how important it is to be good,” Simmons said of herself and her siblings, sisters Vedelle and Jacqueline and brother Clarence Williams Jr.
Clarence Williams Sr. graduated from what then was known as Georgia State College and now is Savannah State University with a bachelor’s of science in agriculture in 1949.
“What makes his story so unique is that his parents were not educated, and when he lived in Baxley, they did not have a school for him to attend, so his parents sent him to Albany State so he could finish his high school education and become the first person to receive a college degree …,” Simmons added. “So each generation knows it’s not a question of whether you want to go to college, but where do you want to go?”