Black Organizing and Activism

The Rev. Cecil Williams was one of the participants at the 1963 March on Washington, when the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr (MLK) gave his most famous speech.

“I shall never forget when they introduced him, it was the first time I’d heard a preacher really preach,” Cecil Williams told the San Francisco Examiner, referring to King’s “Dream” speech. “And when he ended his speech you never heard a crowd cheer like that . . . what a great leader.”

Cecil put his faith into action as soon as he arrived at Glide.  His first known protest and arrest in San Francisco took place on April 11th, 1964.  Cecil, and other Central City pastors participated in the Cadillac Auto-Row protests and sit ins on Van Ness Ave.  The event was chronicled by KRON News footage that can be viewed in the San Francisco State University DIVA project here.

Cecil marched and was arrested with Martin Lutheran King Jr (MLK) in Alabama in 1965. In 1985, Cecil was chosen by Coretta Scott King to head the Northern California Martin Luther King, Jr. Federal Holiday Observance Committee. The annual San Francisco MLK march and celebration at the Civic Center was the second largest observance of this holiday (after Atlanta, GA). Cecil led the San Francisco MLK celebrations for decades. In 1993 Cecil organized a contingent from Northern California to participate in the 20th Anniversary commemoration of MLK’s 1963 March on Washington. Learn more about Cecil’s leadership at San Francisco MLK events here.

Some of the most historic ways that Cecil served as a leader of black organizing and activism are included here.  We encourage you to learn more about these issues through the multimedia resources below.

1968 – Night Call – Cecil Williams’ Thoughts about Race at Age 39

Listen to the Thanksgiving Call in Show here.
On this Thanksgiving evening in 1968, Williams talked about things he and others did – and did not – have to be thankful for. At the time of this program, he was 39 years old and had been pastor of Glide Church for five years. Throughout the program, Thanksgiving was seen through a filter of race. Callers were interested in Williams’s idea that he needed to think about himself as a Black man could, not as a White man would – that he could create his own life. He said there was a time he wanted to be called “colored,” and at one time “negro,” but now preferred “black” and felt empowered by that. Williams felt White people put a priority on property, and Black people put more of a priority on human life. Shields and Williams talk about Glide Church, accepting each person as they are, and working with them to improve their lives.

1969 – The Black Panther Party asks Cecil to serve as the chairman of Religion Section of the United Front Against Fascism conference held in Oakland

1969 – Cecil spearheads a drive to send thousands of letters and raise money to halt the Chicago trial of Black Panther Leader Bobby Seale

1971 – Supporting University of San Francisco Black Students Union

1972 – Cecil Williams Interviews Angela Davis in Jail

Letter from Cecil to Angela Davis

1972- Speeches by Cecil Williams and Angela Davis on Prisons and Oppression at Bay Area Rally

Courtesy of the American Archive of Radio Broadcasting.

This is a recording made at an 1972 outdoor rally in the Bay Area featuring speeches by Reverend Cecil Williams and Angela Davis, after the latter’s release from prison in June 1972. Angela Davis was known for her involvement in the Black Panther Party and the Communist Party. The recording starts with a woman speaking over a P.A. system, announcing that they have collected 1500 signatures for their petition and want to keep collecting signatures to turn into the Attorney General’s office. She then introduces Reverend Cecil Williams, who describes a “genocide against black brothers and sisters” happening within the United States consisting of: wrongful medical testing on black individuals in Alabama, an unjust percentage of black deaths in Vietnam, discrimination against poor people in prison, population control, the ruling against Ruchell Magee, and the San Quentin Six. Angela Davis then speaks on freeing Ruchell Magee and the San Quentin Six, and expresses her opposition to the American prison system.

1976 – Juneteenth Celebration in Austin, Texas

In Black America Radio Series
Part 1: Courtesy of the American Archive of Radio Broadcasting

Part 2: Courtesy of the American Archive of Radio Broadcasting

Part 3: Courtesy of the American Archive of Radio Broadcasting


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Financial Support:
The Rev. Cecil Williams taught us to use our voice to radically welcome others.  We continue to proclaim that radical welcome in all that we do!  We celebrate the Rev. Cecil’s birthday throughout the month of September.  If you would like to help us celebrate, please send a love offering in honor of his birthday.  Your support helps us share unconditional love in the Tenderloin, in San Francisco and throughout the world. Contribute to our fundraiser in Honor of Cecil’s 94th Birthday here.