williams

Elbert Williams
Corner of E. Main and Jackson Ave.

Elbert Williams is the first known member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) to be murdered as a Civil Rights activist. Born in Brownsville in 1908, he was a charter member of the local NAACP when the local chapter was organized in 1939.  On May 6, 1940, five members of Brownsville’s NAACP Branch unsuccessfully attempted to register to vote. No African American had been allowed to register to vote in Haywood County during the 20th century.  The evening of June 20, two police officers and the manager of the local Coca-Cola bottling company, took Williams from his home. Three days later, his corpse was found floating in the nearby Hatchie River.  He was shot twice in his chest. The county coroner ordered no autopsy.  The cause of death was listed as unknown.  The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) opened an investigation.  NAACP Special Counsel Thurgood Marshall, later a United States Supreme Court Justice, monitored the investigation, and travelled to Brownsville to collect evidence.  The United States Attorney in Memphis, however, closed the Williams case, citing insufficient evidence. Thurgood Marshall, however, was unable to get the inquiry reopened.  A marker was dedicated in his memory in 2015.

Dunbar-Carver Residential District