The New Deal: The National Level

By John Braeman; Robert H. Bremner et al. | Go to book overview

John A. Salmond


Aubrey Williams: Atypical New Dealer?

ONCE, WHILE ON A TOUR OF SOUTHERN STATES, AUBREY WILLIS Williams, then executive director of the National Youth Administration, stopped in Birmingham, Alabama, to talk to NYA project workers at a luncheon arranged in his honor. During the morning, he found that only white enrollees had been invited. He immediately told the Alabama state director, John Bryan, that unless Negroes were allowed to participate as well, he would simply refuse to appear. Bryan agreed, with obvious reluctance, to this demand.

But there was more to come. When Williams entered the hall where the luncheon was to be served,

I saw Negroes standing at the sides and at the rear of the room. I looked to see if any were seated, but none were, and so I said to John, "John, God Damn it, you are determined to mistreat these Negro Youth. Well, you won't do it while I am here. You have tables brought in here and chairs for these Negroes to sit down and eat." Flushed and sweating, poor, big, six foot six and handsome John said, "They have already eaten." I said, "O! they have already eaten, nevertheless you have tables and chairs put in here for them and serve them, just as though they had not eaten and don't serve anybody until they are seated."

Tables duly arrived, the blacks were seated, and Williams gave his address. 1

This incident reveals something of the impulsive, forceful, and uncompromising style of Aubrey Willis Williams. It is also a statement of his social concerns. Williams was a radical, he wanted a just and decent America, and he wanted it quickly. Yet he was not, as were so many of

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