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Edward J. Williams

Born on Chicago’s South Side on May 5, 1942, Ed Williams has risen to the top in the world of banking. He attended Tilden Tech, and transferred to Englewood High School after two years. Following his high school graduation, he attended Clark College in Atlanta on a scholarship, though he returned to his native Chicago before graduating. Williams later returned to school, earning a B.S. degree in business administration from Roosevelt University in Chicago in 1973.

Upon his return to Chicago from Atlanta in 1961, Williams, with help from an alumnus of Clark College, bought a newspaper distributorship for the Chicago Tribune on the city’s West Side. The neighborhood at the time was turbulent, and the franchise was sold to him for $6,000, ten percent of the average value of similar operations. Soon, Williams had twenty-five employees. He left the business in 1962, however, after seeing his employees get hurt in robberies. Under the advice of Supreme Life Insurance chairman Earl Dickerson, Williams attempted to get a job with one of their partners, but was turned down for being too light skinned. Undeterred, he continued to apply at banks, and after working briefly with Continental Bank, he was hired as the first African American male employee of Harris Bank in 1964, and he would remain there until his retirement.

Williams rapidly advanced at the bank, first supervising tellers and later managing the department that worked with African American entrepreneurs. In 1980, Williams was named senior vice president of commercial banking, and in 1991 he was named executive vice president of community affairs. He retired from the bank in February of 2004.

Throughout his career, Williams served as a mentor to those who have sought him out, offering his time and advice to others. He has also been active in the community, serving with the Neighborhood Housing Services (NHS) of Chicago since 1978, spending more than twenty years as a trustee of the Adler Planetarium and currently serving as a trustee of the Art Institute of Chicago. In 2003, Williams was presented with the Gale Cincotta Neighborhood Partnership Award by the NHS. He and his wife, Ana, reside in Chicago.

Accession Number

A2004.008

Sex

Male

Interview Date

2/16/2004

Last Name

Williams

Maker Category
Marital Status

Married

Middle Name

J.

Occupation
Schools

Edward Tilden Career Community Academy High School

Englewood High School

Clark Atlanta University

Roosevelt University

William W. Carter Elementary School

First Name

Edward

Birth City, State, Country

Chicago

HM ID

WIL13

Favorite Season

Spring

Sponsor

Harris Bank

State

Illinois

Favorite Vacation Destination

Charleston, South Carolina

Favorite Quote

What You Learn After You Think You Know It All Is Most Important.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Illinois

Birth Date

5/5/1942

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Chicago

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Barbecue (Ribs)

Short Description

Bank executive Edward J. Williams (1942 - ) was the first African American male to work at Harris Bank and served as its Executive Vice President of Community Affairs. He was on the boards of the Adler Planetarium, the Neighborhood Housing Services of Chicago and the Art Institute of Chicago.

Employment

Continental Bank

Harris Bank

Mutual Home Delivery

Chicago Tribune Distribution

Main Sponsor
Favorite Color

Blue

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Edward J. Williams' interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Edward J. Williams lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Edward J. Williams describes his mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Edward J. Williams describes his father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Edward J. Williams lists his siblings

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Edward J. Williams describes his earliest childhood memory

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Edward J. Williams recalls his childhood neighborhood on Chicago, Illinois' South Side

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Edward J. Williams describes his childhood home in the Washington Park neighborhood of Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Edward J. Williams describes the sights, sounds and smells of his childhood neighborhood of Washington Park in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Edward J. Williams remembers his Boy Scout leaders, Clarence Crook and Ted Moran

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Edward J. Williams talks about his experience as a Boy Scout

Tape: 1 Story: 12 - Edward J. Williams recalls being encouraged to read by teacher Beulah Dorsey and librarian Ms. Rollins during elementary school

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Edward J. Williams recalls his childhood love of horses

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Edward J. Williams describes visiting his brother in the rural neighborhood of Morgan Park in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Edward J. Williams recalls holiday dinners and listening to the radio with his family as a child

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Edward J. Williams remembers the spacious apartment of a childhood friend

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Edward J. Williams talks about his childhood responsibilities

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Edward J. Williams describes his childhood personality

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Edward J. Williams talks about his childhood dream of becoming a foreign news correspondent

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Edward J. Williams remembers Coppin Memorial AME Church in the Washington Park neighborhood of Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Edward J. Williams talks about his childhood perception of his light skin color

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Edward J. Williams recalls his next-door neighbors and his childhood realization of socioeconomic difference

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Edward J. Williams talks about his Chinese maternal grandfather

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Edward J. Williams recalls his father's illness and death from cancer

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Edward J. Williams remembers the impact of his father's death on his family and his mother's strength

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Edward J. Williams talks about attending Tilden Technical High School and reflects upon his friendships at Englewood High School

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Edward J. Williams remembers attending Englewood High School in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Edward J. Williams recalls his favorite academic subjects

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Edward J. Williams talks about obtaining a scholarship to Clark College in Atlanta, Georgia with the help of Charles Chisholm

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Edward J. Williams recalls visiting the South with relatives and attending Clark College in Atlanta, Georgia

Tape: 3 Story: 10 - Edward J. Williams talks about notable peers and African American social hierarchies at Clark College in Atlanta, Georgia

Tape: 3 Story: 11 - Edward J. Williams talks about dropping out of Clark College in Atlanta, Georgia to get married

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Edward J. Williams recalls moving to Chicago, Illinois with his wife and buying a Chicago Tribune distribution franchise

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Edward J. Williams describes his Chicago Tribune franchise territory on the West Side of Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Edward J. Williams talks about selling his Chicago Tribune franchise after a paper boy was hurt during a robbery

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Edward J. Williams remembers being recommended to run a Chicago Tribune franchise by his former employer, Charles Chisholm

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Edward J. Williams remembers gangs and community leaders on Chicago, Illinois' West Side

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Edward J. Williams describes the violent character of Chicago, Illinois' West Side

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Edward J. Williams recalls selling his distribution franchise back to the Chicago Tribune and starting his banking career at Continental Bank

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Edward J. Williams talks about Supreme Life Insurance president Earl B. Dickerson

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Edward J. Williams recalls being hired as a teller at Harris Bank in Chicago, Illinois in 1964

Tape: 4 Story: 10 - Edward J. Williams talks about not understanding the banking industry when he began his career as a teller at Harris Bank

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Edward J. Williams remembers being recruited to volunteer for Talent Assistance Program and working with Sid Barnes of Rotary Connection

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Edward J. Williams recalls helping Sidney Barnes, Jr. obtain a loan through Harris Bank while working with Talent Assistance Program

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Edward J. Williams remembers deepening community involvement during his early years at Harris Bank

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Edward J. Williams talks about his involvement in the Chicago Economic Development Corporation (CEDCO) during the late-1960s

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Edward J. Williams explains the African American business community's need for access to financing in the 1960s

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Edward J. Williams recalls his coworkers while he was a teller at Harris Bank

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Edward J. Williams recalls his career trajectory at Harris Bank and African American hires at other banks in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Edward J. Williams talks about navigating the hierarchy and taking charge of his career at Harris Bank

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Edward J. Williams describes how he became an integral part of Harris Bank management

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Edward J. Williams talks about the popularity of First National Bank of Chicago among African Americans

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Edward J. Williams remembers attending Roosevelt University in Chicago, Illinois and earning his bachelor's degree in 1973

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Edward J. Williams recalls his charitable work with the United Way of Chicago, Chicago Public Schools and other civic organizations

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Edward J. Williams describes his experience as chairman of the board of Provident Hospital in Chicago, Illinois during its bankruptcy

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Edward J. Williams reflects upon what he learned as chairman of the board of Provident Hospital in Chicago, Illinois during its bankruptcy

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Edward J. Williams describes his work with Neighborhood Housing Services, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Chicago Botanic Garden

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Edward J. Williams talks about passing

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Edward J. Williams talks about his retirement party

Tape: 6 Story: 9 - Edward J. Williams remembers being subject to racist remarks from coworkers and clients who did not recognize him as African American

Tape: 6 Story: 10 - Edward J. Williams talks about dealing with racist clients and Harris Bank's policy toward racial discrimination

Tape: 6 Story: 11 - Edward J. Williams talks about becoming head of community affairs at Harris Bank in 1991

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Edward J. Williams explains how the banking industry has changed since the 1980s

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Edward J. Williams talks about redlining and the impact of the 1977 Community Reinvestment Act on retail banking

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Edward J. Williams recalls opening a branch of Harris Bank in Chicago, Illinois' West Garfield Park neighborhood

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Edward J. Williams talks about the significance of banks to low income communities

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - Edward J. Williams recalls Harris Bank's philanthropic foundation's work in Chicago, Illinois' North Lawndale neighborhood

Tape: 7 Story: 6 - Edward J. Williams reflects upon the future of the banking industry

Tape: 7 Story: 7 - Edward J. Williams gives advice to young people interested in financial careers

Tape: 7 Story: 8 - Edward J. Williams describes his hopes and concerns for the African American community

Tape: 7 Story: 9 - Edward J. Williams describes his involvement in the Asian American community

Tape: 7 Story: 10 - Edward J. Williams talks about his plans for civic involvement during retirement

Tape: 7 Story: 11 - Edward J. Williams reflects upon his legacy

Tape: 8 Story: 1 - Edward J. Williams narrates his photographs, pt. 1

Tape: 8 Story: 2 - Edward J. Williams narrates his photographs, pt. 2

Tape: 8 Story: 3 - Edward J. Williams narrates his photographs, pt. 3

Tape: 8 Story: 4 - Edward J. Williams narrates his photographs, pt. 4

DASession

1$1

DATape

5$5

DAStory

2$8

DATitle
Edward J. Williams recalls helping Sidney Barnes, Jr. obtain a loan through Harris Bank while working with Talent Assistance Program
Edward J. Williams talks about navigating the hierarchy and taking charge of his career at Harris Bank
Transcript
Anyway, [Sidney Barnes, Jr.] he needed money, like everyone needed starting up a business. And I was just coming out of the teller area at the time, by then. And I had no lending authority--didn't know anyone as a loan officer. But I had gotten to meet one of the senior vice presidents whose checks I used to cash as a teller. And I explained to him how I'd gotten involved, and this person I was working with, and the stage where we were--where this man now needed money to take his production business and get it going. So he says, "Okay, [HistoryMaker Edward J. Williams] Ed." And I don't know why he said he'd do this, but anyway, he did. We got in a cab, went out to [East] 19th [Street] and [South] Calumet [Avenue] [sic. 1900 South Calumet Avenue, Chicago, Illinois]. He met Sid. They talked about stuff that--I didn't understand what they were talking about. But he, you know, he was a senior vice president of the bank [Harris Trust & Savings Bank; BMO Harris Bank, Chicago, Illinois]. We got in a cab going on our way back to the bank. And he says, "What do you think we should do, Ed?" I said, "Well, I think we should make the loan." So he says, "What the hell, let's do it." He made the loan. And so, Sid got the money he needed to get the records pressed. The records were then shipped back to his studio. And he'd gotten the radio to start playing the records that he had cut and for the people he'd signed. And then, there was a strike, and he couldn't get the records. I forget now. He couldn't get the records to the stores. So, they were being aired on the radio, but they couldn't get delivered to the distribution points. And so, by the time the strike was over, the music had run its course, and because people couldn't buy it, and the DJs are going on to something else. And so, the strike lasted, you know, a month and a half or so because he couldn't get it. Anyway, long story short--he couldn't pay back the loan. And it didn't break my career though, and they didn't hold that against me. It didn't hurt me at all. But that was my first loan at the bank--was--this is it, yeah.$$You know, what I find amazing about that--one, you're dealing with the senior vice president at the time, and getting him to go on a car over to look at--was that typical of Harris?$$No.$$I mean, so how did that--you had the chutzpah enough to ask or I'm--$$I didn't know any different--$$You didn't know any different?$$--didn't know any different. And I got myself involved with this organization [Talent Assistance Program (TAP)] with this individual. And I was supposed to be his advocate and so, I had to deliver, or do the best that I could. And so I tried to carry out that commitment.$You become assistant, you say, manager, and then--$$A manager--$$Manager--$$--in personal banking.$$--okay.$$Of a personal banking unit, and meaning I was the manager of an area on the first floor as a part of the personal banking division. I eventually went on to become the division administrator taking on the responsibility for all the retail banking for Harris [Trust & Savings Bank; BMO Harris Bank, Chicago, Illinois] eight or nine years later.$$Okay. And now, as you move up, what things are you learning about that, you know, about the corporate? And it's a very structured, you know, the corporate America at this point is extremely sort of structured.$$Um-hm. What I'm learning most is that you had to take charge of your career yourself; that you had to--that the bank, except for a very few people, or any company for that matter, was going to design or set out a career for you, or to put you on a track that led you to the upper parts of the bank. And so, I tried to think about where I wanted to be, and who I needed to get to know to get to my next position. And so, I was always thinking, you know, a year or two down the road. And I never thought or even had designs on trying to be the president of the bank because I just--that was just a waste of time to think about that sort of thing. But I did feel that there was more growth for me there at the company, and I had to figure what are the areas that I can grow into where I would have the skills to do very well in that area, and tried to avoid being placed in areas where it would be very difficult for me to succeed. And so, I was very fortunate or lucky in that I landed in places that played to my strengths because I didn't have the background or the training for, you know, many of the jobs in the bank, but also very fortunate in that I had very supportive bosses, managers along the way, who did what you'd want a good manager to be--