John Bell Williams

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John Bell Williams, Sr.

In office
January 16, 1968 – January 18, 1972
Preceded by Paul Burney Johnson, Jr.
Succeeded by William Lowe "Bill" Waller, Sr.

U.S. Representative for Mississippi's since disbanded 7th district
In office
January 3, 1947 – January 3, 1953
Preceded by Daniel Rayford "Dan" McGehee
Succeeded by District eliminated after 1950 census

U.S. Representative for Mississippi's 4th congressional district
In office
January 3, 1953 – January 3, 1963
Preceded by Thomas Abernethy
Succeeded by William Arthur Winstead

U.S. Representative for Mississippi's 3rd congressional district
In office
January 3, 1963 – January 16, 1968
Preceded by Frank E. Smith
Succeeded by Charles Hudson Griffin

Born December 4, 1918
Raymond, Hinds County,
Died March 25, 1983 (aged 64)
Brandon, Rankin County,
Resting place Raymond Cemetery
in Hinds County
Political party Democrat
Spouse(s) Elizabeth Ann Wells Williams
(1921-2010; divorced in 1970s)
Children John Bell Williams, Jr.

Kelly Williams
Marcia Elizabeth (last name unavailable)
Graves Kelly and Maud Elizabeth Bedwell Williams

Alma mater Hinds Community College

University of Mississippi
Mississippi College School of Law

Occupation Attorney
Religion Southern Baptists

Military Service
Service/branch United States Army Air Corps
Rank Pilot (lost part of left arm in bomber crash)
Battles/wars World War II

John Bell Williams, Sr. (December 4, 1918 – March 25, 1983), was the Democrat Governor of his native Mississippi from 1968 to 1972. He was elected to Congress in 1946 at the age of twenty-seven, the youngest man to be elected to that position from Mississippi. In what was then one-party Democrat Mississippi, he was reelected to the House through 1966 from three different districts, switched because of redistricting.[1]


Williams was born to Graves Kelly Williams (1890-1953) and the former Maud Elizabeth Bedwell (1893-1972) in Raymond in Hinds County near the state capital of Jackson. The three are interred at Raymond Cemetery in Hinds County.[1] He graduated in 1936 from Hinds Community College, then known as Hinds Junior College and in 1938 from the University of Mississippi at Oxford and in 1940 from the Mississippi College School of Law, then known as the Jackson Law School.[2]

In November 1941, he enlisted with the United States Army Air Corps and served as a pilot during World War II. He left active service in 1944 after he lost the lower portion of his left arm in a bomber crash.[2]

Political career

In November 1946, Williams was elected to the U.S. House from Mississippi's 7th congressional district, since disbanded because of population loss. His incoming colleagues included John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon. Beginning in 1953, he represented the 4th district and starting in 1963, he was the representative for the 3rd district.[3]

An advocate of states' rights, Williams was a member of his state's delegation to the 1948 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He rejected the nomination of President Harry Truman and vice-presidential nominee Alben Barkley of Kentucky. Williams then supported South Carolina Governor Strom Thurmond's Dixiecrat presidential campaign. Thurmond easily carried the electoral vote in Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, and South Carolina as the official Democratic nominee in those states.

After the United States Supreme Court issued its Brown v. Board of Education opinion on May 17, 1954, which outlawed racial segregation in public schools, Williams made a speech on the House floor branding the day as "Black Monday."[4] Along with the entire Mississippi House delegation, Williams signed the Southern Manifesto in 1956. In 1952, Williams had supported the Democratic Stevenson-Sparkman campaign against Dwight D. Eisenhower and Nixon, but he favored unpledged Democratic electors in 1956 against Stevenson and Estes Kefauver and in 1960 against Kennedy and Nixon. In the latter year, Mississippi did vote for an unpledged elector slate.[5]

In 1964, Williams helped to raise funds in Mississippi for Republican U.S. Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona in the presidential general election against U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson. Goldwater carried Mississippi with 87 percent of the vote. The Democratic Caucus then stripped the House seniority of Williams and a colleague, Albert Watson of South Carolina.[5]Williams remained a Democrat and retained his seat in 1966, when the GOP gained forty-seven U.S. House seats. Watson defected in 1965 to the Republicans and ran unsuccessfully for governor in 1970 in a hard-fought race against the Democrat John C. West.

In 1967, Williams faced a formidable field in the Democratic gubernatorial primary, including former Governor Ross Robert Barnett, Sr. (1893-1987), and two future governors, William Forrest Winter (1923-2020) and William Lowe "Bill" Waller, Sr. (1926-2011). In the campaign, Williams argued that former Governor Barnett made a secret deal with President Kennedy and then United States Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy during the 1962 desegregation of the University of Mississippi. In the first round of balloting, Williams finished second to the moderate candidate, William Winter.In the runoff, Williams defeated Winter by 61,000 votes. In the general election, Williams handily defeated Democrat-turned-Republican Rubel Phillips, in Phillips' second unsuccessful campaign for governor. Phillips' running mate for lieutenant governor in 1963, state Senator Stanford Morse, a state senator from Gulfport from 1956 to 1964, endorsed Williams in the 1967 race, rather than the Republican Phillips. Williams in the campaign joked that when the returns are tabulated the Republicans "won't be able to find a Rubel in the rubble."[6]

During Williams' term as governor, a federal court ordered the state to desegregate its public schools by the fall of 1970. Despite his segregationist past, Williams did not defy the court. Instead, he said that he would use his gubernatorial power to establish a statewide private-school system.[5] He was chairman of the Southern Governors Conference in 1970-1971.[2]

After his term, Williams resumed his law practice. He endorsed Republicans Gerald Ford in 1976 and served as the co-chairman of the Ronald W. Reagan in 1980, rather than the Democratic nominee both years, Jimmy Carter of Georgia.[5]


  1. 1.0 1.1 John Bell Williams (1918-1983) - Find A Grave Memorial, accessed September 27, 2021.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 John Bell Williams, 1918–1983. Civil Rights Digital Library of Georgia. Retrieved on September 28, 2021.
  3. WILLIAMS, John Bell | US House of Representatives: History, Art & Archives, accessed September 28, 2021.
  4. With an Even Hand": Brown v. Board at Fifty. Library of Congress. Retrieved on September 24, 2008.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 EX-MISSISSIPPI GOV. WILLIAMS, STAUNCH SEGREGATIONIST, DIES - The New York Times (, accessed September 28, 2021.
  6. Billy Hathorn, "Challenging the Status Quo: Rubel Lex Phillips and the Mississippi Republican Party (1963-1967)." The Journal of Mississippi History XLVII, November 1985, No. 4, pp. 258, 261.