Memorial Planned for Elbert Williams

On Saturday June 20, community members in Brownsville, Tennessee will gather for the delayed memorial of civil rights Pioneer Elbert Williams at Haywood High School.

Williams is the first known National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) official to be murdered for his involvement in the civil rights movement.

The memorial service will begin promptly at 9 a.m. in the school’s gymnasium, and will feature NAACP National President Cornell William Brooks as the guest speaker.

Officials will unveil a state historical marker at 11 a.m. during Saturday’s memorial in downtown Brownsville. A brief service will be held at Taylor Cemetery where Williams is buried.

(far left) Elbert Williams poses with NAACP charter members in this undated photo.


The event marks the 75th anniversary of what is believed to be Williams’s death. On May 6, 1940, five members of Brownsville’s NAACP Branch attempted to register to vote, a feat that no Black person in Haywood County could do at the time.

The next day, the threats began.

On June 16, would-be registrant Elisha Davis was kidnapped from home by a group of whites led by the town’s policemen. The mob took Davis to a nearby swamp and threatened him with death unless he named the members of the Brownsville NAACP. After naming a few, Davis was forced out of the county, and threatened with death should he ever return. Many Black families fled. The Williams family was not one of them.

On June 20, three white men took Williams from his home and jailed him. After questioning him about an NAACP meeting he was suspected of planning, officials claimed that Williams was released, but he was never seen alive again.

Organizers will march to the burial site. Viewers can stream Saturday’s memorial service here.