Aubrey W. Williams Jr.

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Aubrey Willis Williams, Jr.

Birthdate:
Death: February 23, 2008 (83)
Immediate Family:

Son of Aubrey W. Williams and Anita Williams

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About Aubrey W. Williams Jr.

Aubrey W. Williams Jr., an anthropology professor who urged students to challenge authority and became known as an outspoken civil rights and anti war activist, died Saturday of complications related to pneumonia at Washington Adventist Hospital in Takoma Park. He was 83.

The driving force behind the University of Maryland's anthropology department, he was the department’s first chair and taught the subject for 46 years.

“He was utterly committed to undergraduates and always willing to fight for justice,” said anthropology professor Mark Leone, who knew Williams for more than 30 years. “He was a leader completely committed to a scientific view of how anthropology was taught to undergraduates.”

Despite his expertise, Williams preferred teaching introductory courses most. Students remembered him as a consummate storyteller who taught lessons of world cultures through tales of Route 1 war protests and his own childhood.

“Being with Aubrey was kind of like taking a trip through the major historical events of the 20th century,” said Lisa Pfeifer, a biology graduate student who befriended Williams even though she never took one of his classes.

“He fought in World War II. He actively protested every war after that right up to the Iraq War. He had breakfast with Eleanor Roosevelt as a little boy; he was active in the Civil Rights Movement. You never knew when he started a story where it would end up.”

Anthropology professor William Stewart, who had known Williams for almost 35 years, described him as a “maverick” and the “spiritual faculty father of anti-war sentiments,” and noted he was never one to stand down.

“He was an extremely principled person,” Stewart said. “He addressed the issue whether it was right or wrong. If he thought you were wrong, he told you. He was a direct person.”

Junior American studies and anthropology major Katie Brown took two classes with Williams on the culture of Native Americans in North and South America.

Brown felt that she gained information about life in addition to cultural knowledge during his lectures and enjoyed hearing about his diverse life experiences.

“He did his own thing,” Brown said. “He did not have all kinds of study guides and strict bulletins. Going to his class was like story time, but it was about what we were supposed to be learning. It was like going in to hear your grandfather talk about everything he has done.”

Williams was born in 1924 in Madison, Wisconsin to Anita Schreck Williams and Aubrey Williams, who was a main consultant for President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal.

The family moved to the Washington, D.C., and Alexandria area in 1934 after Williams’ father started working at the White House.

Williams served in the Army Air Corps in 1942 and served as a flight engineer and top gunner through World War II. Afterwards, Williams received his bachelor’s and masters’ degrees at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and his doctorate in anthropology at the University of Arizona.

Williams was continuously active in social and political movements throughout his life, including Henry Wallace’s 1948 presidential campaign, desegregation in public schools in Montgomery County and fighting for economic justice for sharecroppers in California.

From 1956 to 1957, Williams worked as a field camp director for the American Friends Service Committee in the state of Puebla, Mexico, an experience that eventually contributed to his passion for anthropology and world cultures.

Williams’ main interest was in Native American culture, particularly the Navajo tribe. He also taught in China and Mexico and served as a Fulbright Scholar, a government program for international education exchange, in the former USSR .

In 1967, Williams initiated a separate undergraduate degree in anthropology within the sociology department, eventually transitioning into a department of its own with Williams as its director in 1971.

Williams is survived by two brothers, Morrison Williams, of York, Pa., and Jere Williams, of Framingham, Mass.; sons, Jonathan and Aubrey Philip Williams, 56 and 29, of Prairie Farm, Wisconsin and Santa Barbara Calif.; a daughter, Nancy Otter, 54, of New Britain, Conn.; and five grandchildren.

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Aubrey W. Williams Jr.'s Timeline

1924
July 31, 1924
2008
February 23, 2008
Age 83