Legacy of Avon Nyanza Williams

avon williams




Born in Dec. 22, 1921 in Knoxville, TN.


Received a degree from Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, N.C.

 1947, 1948

Received LL.B. and LL.M. degrees from Boston University School of Law


Practiced law in Knoxville, his hometown.


Moved to Nashville and established law practice becoming a leader in civil-rights litigation. Among the cases in which Williams had been involved were the Metro school desegregation lawsuit and the suit, which resulted in the merger of TSU and the University of Tennessee-Nashville.


Married to former Joan Marie Bontemps in 1956, with whom he had two children, a son, Avon N. Williams, III and a daughter, Wendy Janette Williams.

 1962, 1966

Founded the Davidson County Independent Political Council in 1962 and the Tennessee Voters Council in 1966.


Elected to the State Senate in 1968. Served as a Nashville State Senator 1968-90.


Involved in the TSU/UT in Nashville merger suit as attorney for the plaintiff intervenes, and successfully persuaded the court that University of Tennessee in Nashville merged into Tennessee State University.

 1976, 1981

Formulated and passed laws providing for new buildings at Tennessee State University, including the $9 million Gentry Health and Physical Education Center in 1976 and the $3.56 million Engineering Building in 1981.


Named chairman of the Senate State and Local Government Committee, becoming the first black to chair a state Senate committee.

 1981- 86


Received the Black Caucus "Legislator of the year" award in 1981. Received award from the Bar Association for "outstanding contributions" to the community in 1982, "Award of Excellence" in 1984 and Tennessee Legislative Service Award in 1986.


Attended his gala birthday celebration by almost 600 people. 
Honored with letters of congratulation from U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, Sen. Jim Sasser, Sen.-elect Albert Gore Jr., Gov. Lamar Alexander and Mayor Richard Fulton.


The state Senate voted 32-0 to recommend to the State Board of Regents that the downtown campus of Tennessee State University be named for Sen. Avon Williams. Tennessee State University’s Downtown Campus officially bears his name on April 16, 1986.


Awarded an honorary LL.D. degree from Fisk University in 1989.


Donated his papers and memorabilia to TSU Brown-Daniel Library. The papers include documents from his tenure as senator from the 19th senatorial district. The gift includes photographs, plaques, personal items and the desk from Sen. Williams’ Legislative Plaza office.


Died at Meharry-Hubbard Hospital of complications from Lou Gehrig’s disease on August 29. 


"Avon Williams, Jr. has been and will remain the thread that has woven this University into the beautiful fabric that it is today. He fought to see that Tennessee State University remained the dominant public college in Nashville, and we will continue to put forth our best efforts in making TSU worthy of that position."--TSU President James Hefner (in Accent 9/30/94)


"Avon’s voice was strongest in his role at the forefront of the civil rights movement as he worked to ensure equal opportunities and justice for all Tennessean. But throughout his life, which included some of the most tumultuous periods of our country’s history, Avon was a steadfast leader of his community."--Vice President Al Gore (in Tennessean 9/94)


"Avon Williams was a man of courage, conviction and conscience. He used the law as a tool to open doors of opportunity for those whose opportunities were limited."--Governor Ned McWherter (in Tennessean 9/94)

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