Elizabeth Williams is a 60-year-old black woman who has lived in Detroit for the past 27 years. By all accounts, Miss Williams, a seamstress, is a deeply religious person whose life revolves around her church. During her residence in Michigan she has been a law-abiding citizen. But Elizabeth Williams, according to Alabama correctional officials, is also an escaped felon who should be returned to serve the remainder of her prison sentence - 209 years.
Miss Williams, who prefers to be called Lizzy, was convicted in 1942 of one count each of unarmed robbery by three different Alabama juries. The charges stemmed from her allegedly having lied to law officials to protect a friend charged with committing several robberies; there is no evidence that she herself actually participated in any robberies. The juries (of course, in those days of official segregation, juries were all-white), which then by law meted out sentences in robbery convictions, sentenced Lizzy Williams to 20 years, 99 years, and 99 years in prison, respectively, for each conviction - a total of 218 years. She served nine years before escaping in 1951 and making her way to Detroit to live with relatives.
When asked whether the interests of justice would be best served returning Lizzy Williams to prison, an aide to Alabama Gov. George Wallace replied that the governor by law had no choice but to request extradition once Miss Williams's whereabouts became known. Fortunately, Michigan Gov. William Milliken had a choice. Thursday he refused Alabama's request for extradition. Given the fact of segregation in Alabama a generation ago, one could question whether Lizzy Williams ought to have served any time in prison. Regardless of that determination, it is now abundantly clear, as Gov. Milliken said in a brief statement, that justice would be best served by allowing Lizzy Williams to remain a free, productive member of soceity.