Eugene & Lorraine Williams Receive Annual Reflector Award
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - The Jefferson School African American Heritage Center is honoring two of Charlottesville’s most prominent African American figures for their fight against racial injustice.
Eugene and Lorraine Williams are this year’s recipients of the annual Reflector Award at the Lady & Black Mac fundraiser. The couple embodies entrepreneurship, activism, social and cultural equity.
The Lady & Black Mac: A Gathering in Honor of the King's Coronation, is a fundraiser celebrating the many achievements of the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center
"We are both an exhibition and we are also in the business of honoring the traditions of those people who went to school here,” said Andrea Douglas, Jefferson School director.
Two of those people are Eugene and Lorraine Williams. They received the Reflector Award for their civil rights activism in Charlottesville
"It means an awful lot - very special,” said Eugene Williams.
The Williams’ case against Charlottesville City Schools to end school segregation went to the United States Supreme Court in the 1950s.
"Whose shoulders we stand on whose efforts in desegregating schools allow us to be the kinds of people who we are and live in a city in the way that we do live in it,” said Douglas.
Guests also got a sneak peek of the center's newest exhibition, which dives into the enslavement of African Americans in Albemarle County.
"Natural progression to talk about enslavement and coming out of enslavement to also honoring the people who have done the work to get us even further beyond that,” said Douglas.
Douglas believes its only right the Williams’ are being honored. "How do engage in your community? How do you engage in activism? He's one of those people that embodies that most wholey."
Eugene Williams wants the next generation to continue to fight for justice. "That path will not continue if you don't pick up from where we have started."
The unveiling of the expansion to the permanent exhibition ‘Pride Overcomes Prejudice’ at the African American Heritage Center will be open to the public on October 8.
Jefferson School African American Heritage Center Press Release:
The Jefferson School African American Heritage Center awards The Reflector Award to a member of the community who embodies entrepreneurship, activism, and social and cultural equity. The award is named after Charlottesville's historic African American newspaper The Reflector published by T. J. Seller from 1933-1935. Eugene and Lorraine Williams, who graduated from the Jefferson School in 1944 and 1945 respectively, have embodied the characteristics of this award in the Charlottesville community for more than 70 years.
“This award means so much to us, because [T.J. Sellers] was a mentor to me in the insurance business. His wife, who taught us at Jefferson, made special effort to keep me on track in school after my father passed away,” Eugene Williams said.
In the 1950s, while Eugene Williams was a sales executive with black-owned Universal Life Insurance Company and chair of the local chapter of the NAACP, he recruited plaintiffs to sue the Charlottesville City School to end school segregation. Ultimately the case rose to the Supreme Court before massive resistance was ended when Eugene and Lorraine’s daughters, Scheryl and Karol, among other students, were admitted to Johnson Elementary. None of this would have been possible without the bravery of Lorraine Williams, who was employed by the City Schools as a teacher and was organizing parents from within to participate in the lawsuit.
In the 1980s, Eugene and Lorraine, along with Eugene’s brother, Albert, and sister-in-law, Emma, spent their life savings to create Dogwood Housing. They rented out their 62-units to combat the affordable housing crisis created in large part by the city’s practice of urban renewal.
Now in their nineties, Eugene and Lorraine Williams still remain civically engaged, holding their elected officials and city management accountable in the ongoing work of racial equity.
The Reflector Award will be presented on October 5, at the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center at Lady & Black Mac, a lively fundraiser celebrating the many accomplishments of the Center. There will also be an unveiling of the expansion to their permanent exhibition, Pride Overcomes Prejudice. The event is being sponsored by the Miller School of Albemarle, Kysela, Pere et Fils, and Champion Brewing. Tickets can be purchased at jeffschoolheritagecenter.org.
“I have known Mr & Mrs. Williams since we began working to create the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center. Their support has been invaluable to me and their work to create equitable spaces is an inspiration and guides the decisions we make today. I am so very pleased that they are this year’s recipients,” says Andrea Douglas, executive director.