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Carrie Williams, an African-American educator from West Virginia, fought and won an important civil rights case more than a half-century prior to Brown vs. Board of Education (1954)

Carrie Edwards was born in Chillicothe, Ohio, circa 1866, and married Abraham L. Williams in Thomas, Tucker County, in 1889. In the 1890s, Edwards worked as a schoolteacher at Coketon Colored School, a segregated school that served the community of Coketon, the center of the coal empire of Henry Gassaway Davis.

Williams’ legal battle began in 1892, when the Tucker County Board of Education cut the public school year for African-American students from eight months to five months, while white students continued to attend for the full eight months.

Williams sought the assistance of J.R. Clifford, West Virginia’s first black lawyer. Clifford encouraged Williams to continue teaching for the entire eight months, though she was not paid for the additional months.

Clifford sued the school board on Williams’ behalf. Williams prevailed in Circuit Court and was awarded $120 in back pay. The school board appealed, and the case went to the West Virginia Supreme Court.

In Williams v. The Board of Education Fairfax District (1898), Clifford argued that ‘‘discrimination against people because of color alone as to privileges, immunities and equal protection of the law is unconstitutional.’’ In the end, the West Virginia Supreme Court upheld the lower court’s decision. Williams v. The Board of Education Fairfax District represented a rare civil rights victory before the turn of the century.

Williams continued to teach until about 1899. She and her husband had nine children.

Abraham Williams worked as a coal miner until his death in 1913. After his death, Williams joined her older children in Chicago, where she lived until her death on January 22, 1930.

This Article was written by Becky Calwell

Last Revised on September 23, 2020


Cite This Article

Calwell, Becky "Carrie Williams." e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 23 September 2020. Web. 20 October 2020.

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