For years, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People has worked to ensure people of color have the rights they deserve. Though the organization’s goal has been an admirable one, their fight for equal rights has led to the death of many blacks who believed in their cause, including Elbert Williams, who was the first NAACP member to be killed.
Williams was born in Haywood County, Tennessee on October 15, 1908. In 1929, after marrying his wife Annie Mitchell, the couple moved to Brownsville where they worked in the laundry business. Years later, in 1939, the two would become charter members of the Brownsville NAACP Branch and began their journey fighting the battle for civil rights.
That following year, things escalated between whites and leaders of the NAACP branch which Williams and his wife belonged. An incident that occurred in May of 1940 was a huge catalyst for the whites to start kidnapping black leaders in the area. Five members of the Brownsville NAACP branch attempted to register to vote. This angered the whites who began taking matters into their own hands.
Elbert Williams became a target when he was overhead planning for a NAACP meeting at his home. That same night, on June 20, Williams was taken from his home by two policemen and the manager of a local Coca-Cola bottling business. It was claimed that they only questioned him about the meeting and then released him, but Williams’s body was found three days later in the Hatchie River. He had been shot twice in the chest.
Following the discovery of Williams’s body, authorities ordered that he be buried without a funeral and the cause of death being labeled as “unknown.” The case was closed in 1942 after the Us Department of Justice reversed its decision to present the case to a federal grand jury.
The US Department of Justice initially ordered the case presented to a federal grand jury, but mysteriously reversed itself and closed the case in early 1942. Thurgood Marshall, then special counsel to the NAACP, gathered evidence in Brownsville and became a lifelong critic of the Justice Department’s failure to prosecute Mr. Williams’ assailants. A local grand jury ruled that Williams’s death was due to “foul violence at the hand of parties unknown.”
To this day, it has yet to be discovered who really murdered Elbert Williams.