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Dr. James Williams

As a military officer and physician, Dr. James B. Williams has spent his entire career in public service. Co-founding the Williams Medical Clinic in Chicago with his two brothers, Dr. Jasper F. Williams and Dr. Charles L. Williams, he was also part of a handful of dedicated young men who enlisted and became America’s first black airmen, known as the Tuskegee Airmen.

In 1942, with a pre-medicine background, Williams was drafted into the military and given a position with the medical corps at Camp Pickett, Virginia, and was chosen to attend Medical Administrative Officers Candidate School. Wanting to become a pilot, however, he asked to transfer to the Army Air Corps. He was subsequently appointed an aviation cadet and sent to Boca Raton Club, Florida, for basic training. From there, he went to Yale University for technical training, where he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Air Corps. As a member of the Tuskegee Airmen, Williams served as an Engineering Officer in the post war 99th Fighter Squadron. Also during his time in the service, Williams was among the 101 black officers who attempted to integrate a segregated officers’ club in what became known as the Freeman Field Mutiny.

Williams, a native of Las Cruces, New Mexico, was born on May 28, 1919 to Clara Belle Williams and Jasper B. Williams and was educated in a segregated grade and high school. He earned his B.S. degree in chemistry from New Mexico State University after finishing his military service, and with dreams of becoming a physician, he earned his M.D. degree from Creighton University School of Medicine. There, he met his future wife, Willeen Brown. Williams continued his medical education and was accepted into Creighton’s surgical residency program, earning his M.S. degree in surgery in 1956. With his various medical experiences, he and his brothers established the Williams Clinic on Chicago’s South Side. At its peak, there were more than twenty-eight doctors practicing at the clinic. Williams also worked at Chicago’s St. Bernard’s Hospital in 1957 as its first African American physician, becoming the hospital’s chief of surgery from 1971 to 1972. Williams combined his dedication to progress and medical prowess by meeting with President John F. Kennedy in 1963, as a member of a National Medical Association delegation to advance an amendment to the Hill-Burton Act that would prevent discrimination in hospitals built with federal assistance. Williams also served as physician to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., when the civil rights leader lived in Chicago.

Williams and his wife lived in Las Cruces, New Mexico. The couple had two children: a daughter, Brenda Payton Jones, a former columnist for the Oakland Tribune, and a son, Dr. James B. Williams II, colorectal surgeon in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Williams passed away on November 23, 2016.

Accession Number

A2008.088

Sex

Male

Interview Date

7/16/2008

Last Name

Williams

Maker Category
Middle Name

B

Schools

Booker T. Washington

Wiley College

University of New Mexico

Tuskegee University

New Mexico State University

Creighton University

Search Occupation Category
First Name

James

Birth City, State, Country

El Paso

HM ID

WIL47

Favorite Season

Fall, Spring

Sponsor

Brenda Payton

State

Texas

Favorite Vacation Destination

Jamaica

Favorite Quote

None

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Illinois

Birth Date

5/28/1919

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Chicago

Country

United States

Favorite Food

None

Death Date

11/23/2016

Short Description

Surgeon and tuskegee airman Dr. James Williams (1919 - 2016 ) co-founded the Williams Clinic on Chicago's South Side. He also served as Dr. King's physician while Dr. King lived in Chicago. He was also a member of the Tuskegee Airmen as an Engineering Officer after World War II.

Employment

619th Bombardment Squadron

St. Bernard's Hospital

Williams Clinic

Main Sponsor
Favorite Color

None

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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Dr. James Williams' interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Dr. James Williams lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Dr. James Williams describes his mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Dr. James Williams describes his mother's education and career

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Dr. James Williams describes his father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Dr. James Williams describes his father's civil rights activities

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Dr. James Williams recalls Dr. Lawrence A. Nixon

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Dr. James Williams lists his siblings

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Dr. James Williams describes his parents' personalities

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Dr. James Williams remembers moving to Las Cruces, New Mexico

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Dr. James Williams recalls his family's dog

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Dr. James Williams remembers the doctor who treated his brother's clubfoot

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Dr. James Williams recalls the Booker T. Washington School in Las Cruces, New Mexico

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Dr. James Williams describes his parents' careers

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Dr. James Williams describes his family life

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Dr. James Williams describes the role of religion in his childhood

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Dr. James Williams describes his early education

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Dr. James Williams describes school segregation in Las Cruces, New Mexico

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Dr. James Williams recalls meeting George Washington Carver as a teenager

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Dr. James Williams describes his high school education at the Booker T. Washington School

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Dr. James Williams remembers Wiley College in Marshall, Texas

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Dr. James Williams recalls the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, New Mexico

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Dr. James Williams describes training in aircraft maintenance

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Dr. James Williams recalls his promotion to engineering officer in the U.S. Army

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Dr. James Williams remembers serving in the U.S. Army during World War II

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Dr. James Williams remembers segregation at Freeman Army Airfield

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Dr. James Williams recalls his arrest during the Freeman Field Mutiny

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Dr. James Williams recalls his imprisonment during the Freeman Field Mutiny

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Dr. James Williams describes his legal defense during the Freeman Field Mutiny

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Dr. James Williams recalls serving at the Lockbourne Air Force Base in Columbus, Ohio

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Dr. James Williams remembers Benjamin O. Davis, Jr.

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Dr. James Williams describes his and his brothers' early medical careers

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Dr. James Williams recalls applying to medical schools

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Dr. James Williams recalls his older brother's injury on the family homestead

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Dr. James Williams remembers Creighton University School of Medicine in Omaha, Nebraska

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Dr. James Williams describes his early medical career

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Dr. James Williams recalls becoming Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.'s physician

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Dr. James Williams recalls treating an infant who suffered a gunshot wound in utero

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Dr. James Williams remembers serving as a physician for prominent civil rights leaders

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Dr. James Williams remembers Elijah Muhammad

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Dr. James Williams remembers his patients in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 5 Story: 10 - Dr. James Williams describes his family members' medical careers

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Dr. James Williams describes the healthcare system in Cuba

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Dr. James Williams talks about health insurance in the United States

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Dr. James Williams describes his membership in professional organizations

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Dr. James Williams reflects upon the legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Dr. James Williams describes his hopes and concerns for the African American community

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Dr. James Williams reflects upon his life

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Dr. James Williams reflects upon the history of the U.S. Air Force

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Dr. James Williams reflects upon his legacy

Tape: 6 Story: 9 - Dr. James Williams describes how he would like to be remembered

DASession

1$1

DATape

5$6

DAStory

6$9

DATitle
Dr. James Williams recalls treating an infant who suffered a gunshot wound in utero
Dr. James Williams describes how he would like to be remembered
Transcript
We had a baby that my brother [Jasper F. Williams] and I operated, it was the first baby in the world--the mother was pregnant with the baby and she was shot. And the bullet went in the, the child's flank, went through the liver, the colon, collapsed the right lung and ended up behind the bone in the right upper arm. That's the first baby in the world to survive a gunshot wound to the abdomen and chest in utero, was the one that we did.$$Um-hm.$$I don't think anybody's changed that since then. And my brother delivered the baby, and he handed him to me, and when I got 'em he wasn't breathing, he had no heartbeat, and I started resuscitating him, and his heart started beating and the kid, we invited him to the conference at the University of Illinois, you know, my wife [Willeen Brown Williams] picked up the mother and the child, the little guy was interested in everything that was going on that evening. And the mother said he's the smartest kid she had, she had five other kids, you know, but he survived. And now, he was, that's when we celebrated our twenty-fifth anniversary, and now we just finished our fifty-seventh, so he's, must be about twenty, he's probably twenty-seven years old now.$Our last question is similar to legacy but a little different. Sir, how would you like to be remembered?$$I hadn't thought of that (laughter). But, in my field of surgery I thought I was, could compete with anybody, of course I had good training, I had a master's degree in surgery, which very few surgeons have. And after that I went up to the Royal Vic [Royal Victoria Hospital, Montreal, Canada], in McGill [McGill University, Montreal, Canada] and they had a Jewish surgeon up there who was taking the internal mammary artery and re-vascularizing the heart, that was the fir- I had an opportunity to be up there when he was doing that, which was very unusual. And now they can do bypasses, but what he was doing, he got collateral circulation and he got some mock-ups, you know to show that he was getting collateral circulation in the animals that he did 'em on. I hope we can get somebody in medical school down in Cuba 'cause I think that's a great opportunity that's being overlooked, and still don't know why that some of the black males who were in the program dropped out, I haven't had a chance to talk to the guy from Ohio State [The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio], you know, who takes the kids down there.$$But you wanna be remembered as a good surgeon?$$Oh yeah.$$And?$$And a good parent, yeah. I think that's important. I think that's important for all black parents. I mean, I agree with what Obama's [HistoryMaker President Barack Obama] telling the folks that they have to be responsible for their kids. Of course it's interesting, our kids, we had a motor home and we'd go to skiing in the wintertime, and in the summertime we'd go to Canada, fishing, and both of them liked those things even though they did 'em as kids and they--my son [James Williams II] has a motor home, he still likes to go fishing and skiing. And plus, the fact, I told you he was an excellent surgeon and has made well. Just like I told you, he was considered the best colorectal surgeon in the State of New Mexico.$$Okay, so you'd like to be remembered as a good surgeon and a good parent.$$That's right.