Luther Williams (Finding Aid)

Luther Williams

1940 -

Favorite Color: Blue

Favorite Food: Seafood

Favorite Time of Year: Spring

Favorite Vacation Spot: Barbados

Interview Length: 181 minutes

Interview Date(s): April 11, 2011

Interview Location(s): Tuskegee, Alabama


Luther Williams slates the interview and shares his favorites. Williams was named after a friend of his paternal grandfather who was a bishop of the CME Church. Williams then recalls his family history. His mother, Mattie Wallace Williams was born in 1915. She was raised by her parents, Nathan and Ellen Wallace in Akron and then Uniontown, Alabama. Williams' father, Roosevelt Williams was also born in 1915 to Robert and Emma Williams, who had inherited sixty acres of land from his father, Jonas Williams, who was white. Both Williams and his father were raised by Annie Ellis, Williams' great-grandmother. Williams says that he is "70 going on 150" because he always heard the stories of his great-grandmother and her friends as he grew up. Williams talks about the town of Wedgeworth, Alabama, and the importance of Tuskegee Institute in the lives of time of his grandparents and great-grandparents.

Luther Williams talks about the roles of family and education in his childhood. His great-grandmother and caretaker, Annie Ellis, lived to be 114 years old-old enough to see Williams receive his Ph.D. degree from Purdue University. Williams attended Flatwoods Elementary School and Hale County Training School, the same schools as his father, Roosevelt Williams. Roosevelt Williams worked as a farmer and a logger. Williams discusses how he learned he had to internalize his curiosity and his knowledge of literature and science in order to protect himself, although his great-grandmother encouraged him to succeed in school. Williams discusses how his great-grandmother learned how to read and how she would provide books and newspapers for Williams. Jackson closes this section of the interview reflecting on one of his favorite teachers, Mr. Sterling Wallace, who taught fourth through sixth grades at Flatwoods Elementary School and gave Williams his first science book.

Luther Williams describes his chemistry teacher, Mr. Sanders, as well as his elementary school teacher, Sterling Wallace, who had given him a college biology textbook. Williams graduated from Hale County Training School in 1956, and began his college studies at Tuskegee Institute before transferring to Miles College, where both Wallace and Sanders had attended. Williams recalls three professors from Miles College: Artis Lark, Joseph McPherson, and Emmet Jones. He completed his studies and pursued his master's degree at Atlanta University in 1961 where he met his wife [Constance Marion] and studied under Mary Reddick. Williams then joined the faculty at Atlanta University for one year before moving to Purdue University, where he pursued his Ph.D. degree under advisor Frederick Neidhardt.

Luther Williams talks about the obstacles facing the black community in higher education. His Ph.D. dissertation from Purdue University was titled, "Control of Arginine-tRNA Synthetase in E. Coli," which he goes on to explain the practical applications of. In 1969, Williams was awarded a postdoctoral fellowship by the American Cancer Society to study at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, where he assisted in the Ocean Hill-Brownsville teacher strike. He was also involved in activities of the Civil Rights Movement throughout his undergraduate and graduate studies. Williams ends this section of the interview by discussing how he easily science and religion can be reconciled.

Luther Williams discusses his career path that followed his year-long postdoctoral fellowship at the University of New York at Stony Brook in 1968. Williams taught and conducted research at Atlanta University for one year before joining the faculty at Purdue University. In 1973, he was offered tenure at Purdue University, eventually becoming a full professor in 1979. From 1980 to 1983, Williams worked at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri as dean of the graduate school of arts and sciences. In 1984, he taught briefly at the University of Colorado at Boulder, and between 1985 and 1987, Williams served as president of Atlanta University, leading the university to the merger of Atlanta and Clark Universities. After serving as the deputy director of the National Institutes of Health, Williams worked as an assistant director for STEM education with the National Science Foundation, where he worked to improve the quality of education for minority students.

Luther Williams discusses his career at the Missouri Botanical Garden from 2000 to 2005. He served as director for STEM Education and established working relationships between the garden and public schools in St. Louis, Missouri. Then he helped to establish the graduate program in integrative biosciences at Tuskegee University, eventually becoming a distinguished professor and provost. Williams reflects on his scientific legacy and talks about the role of genetics in improving the prevention and cure of disease in medicine. His great-grandmother, Annie Ellis, saw him receive his Ph.D. degree from Purdue University, and his brother [Arthur Williams], who followed a similar course of study, ended up collaborating and conducting research with Williams. He closes the interview by reflecting on how he would like to be remembered.

42 Stories (See Ordered Story Set)