November 2007

Cecil J. Williams

Photographer who chronicled the civil rights era

“Cecil J. Williams’ photographic images of the civil rights movement provided one of the most comprehensive collections of the era. His photographs have been published in 126 books, 17 newspapers and featured in 11 television documentaries.”

Cecil J. Williams acquired a hand-me-down camera when he was nine, and by age 15 was working as a professional and freelance photographer for such publications as Jet, the Afro-American, and the Pittsburgh Courier, and a stringer for the Associated Press, and today is lauded as one of the country’s most accomplished visual artists. He has worked as a professional photographer, author and publisher of three books, and designer/architect of three residences, but he is most well known as the chronicler of the civil rights era.

His photographs are considered the most comprehensive collection of the civil rights era and have been featured in 126 books, 17 newspapers, and 11 television documentaries. In 1995, Mercer University Press published “Freedom and Justice,” Williams’ photographic documentary of the Civil Rights Movement. The photographs were exhibited at the University of South Carolina, Furman University, Rice Museum in Georgetown, Claflin University, Furman University, Stanback Museum in Orangeburg, Museum of the New South in Charlotte, and McKissick Museum, Columbia. In 1996 he was featured as one of four civil rights photographers in a screening of “Exposures of a Movement,” at Central Piedmont Community College, Charlotte, North Carolina.

Other professional accomplishments in the arts include being selected by the South Carolina Arts Commission as an Artist-in-Residence at William A. Perry High School in Columbia in 1995, a 1994 Commendation by the South Carolina General Assembly for a photographic exhibit, “Quiet Heroes,” official yearbook photographer for South Carolina State University, Claflin University, the South Carolina NAACP, and the National Conference of Black Mayors.

Williams’ credits these experiences with his ability to amass a wealth of historical documentation and political and social experiences. Williams received the Presidential Citation from Dr. Henry N. Tisdale, president of Claflin University, for outstanding contributions to the college and community. He also received the Freedom Fighter Award, presented by the Orangeburg branch of the NAACP, and the 2005 Martin Luther King, Jr. Unity Breakfast Community Service Awards.

He is married to Barbara Johnson Williams, a teacher at Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School.