Black Think Tank's President Retires After Three Decades
Although those same people still tend to cast ballots for Democrats -- if and when they vote -- the study encouraged Republicans to strive for young black voters in a way they never had before. Other polling organizations have since confirmed the Joint Center's findings.
Williams also created Focus magazine, which offers scholarly reports, particularly for policymakers, on issues affecting African Americans.
Before becoming president of the Joint Center, Williams graduated from the University of Illinois in 1955.
"We dated; Eddie liked pretty girls," Bates said. But more than anything, "we worked. We were waiters. Everything we served, we ate. That was our pay. We had another job for spending money."
They both joined the Army ROTC to help pay tuition. After graduating, Williams honored a two-year Army commitment at Fort Bliss, Tex., watching over Cold War-era missile silos.
In the late 1950s, Williams was a journalist in Chicago and Atlanta before coming to Washington, where he became the first black protocol officer at the State Department in 1961.
He said the job took him everywhere. "I saw a lot of places I had never seen," he said, including Brazil, Nigeria and the Sudan. It also took him to Knoxville, Tenn., very close to his home in Memphis, a segregated world.
A clerk at the Andrew Johnson Hotel said he would book a Nigerian prime minister but not his traveling companion, Williams. "We don't take American Negroes in this hotel," Williams recalled the man saying. "They took Africans because it was necessary. They didn't want to upset foreign relations."
But they upset Secretary of State Dean Rusk, who promised that the hotel would not get another dime from the federal government if it barred Williams. He got the room.
In 1968, after working for Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Sen. Hubert Humphrey (D-Minn.), Williams joined the University of Chicago, where he was vice president of public affairs. Four years later, Williams was lured to the Joint Center by his mentor, Louis E. Martin, the black White House aide who suggested that President Lyndon B. Johnson appoint Thurgood Marshall to the Supreme Court.
Martin called, saying there was an opening at the two-year-old think tank, then known as the Joint Center for Political Studies.
"I was very intimidated by the job," Williams said. "I don't see myself as that kind of leader. I wasn't terribly involved in the civil rights movement."
But the more he thought about the people he would serve, the more he warmed to the idea.
"No black organization was looking at public policy then, not the [National] Urban League or the NAACP," Williams said. "That signature work, vintage work, collecting the names of black elected officials, doing surveys, is what I hope my legacy will be."
© 2004 The Washington Post Company
Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies President Eddie N. Williams will retire from his post later this year.
(Gerald Martineau -- The Washington Post)
Eddie N. Williams
Title: President, Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies.
Education: Bachelor's degree, University of Illinois.
Family: Married; three children.
Career highlights: Vice president, public affairs, University of Chicago; reserve officer, Foreign Service, Department of State; reporter, Chicago Daily Defender and Atlanta Daily World. Pastimes: Golf, poker, the Redskins.
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