Agency News

Who was Franklin H. Williams?


For those even slightly familiar with Peace Corps history, you’ve almost definitely heard about Sargent Shriver, the first agency Director and the person credited right after President Kennedy with the agency’s founding.

Lesser known but equally due founding credit is Franklin H. Williams (above left, with Shriver), an African American civil rights lawyer, diplomat and foundation president who worked to improve interracial relations in the U.S. He joined Director Shriver as his Special Assistant in 1961 and later became the agency’s Africa Regional Director.

Williams’s career was illustrious before and after Peace Corps. He began his law career at the NAACP, first as assistant special counsel to Thurgood Marshall, where he argued cases before the Supreme Court, and later as the West Coast Regional Director. At the NAACP Williams conducted drives for legislation on minority employment and won the first judgment in a case involving school desegregation. As Assistant Attorney General in California, he created the state’s first Constitutional Rights Section within the Department of Justice. After serving on Peace Corps staff, Williams served as Ambassador to Ghana in the administration of President Johnson, and from 1970 to 1990 he served as the president of the Phelps-Stokes Fund, an organization established to enhance educational opportunities for Africans, African Americans and American Indians.

We honor Franklin H. Williams, his legacy as an American leader and his important role establishing the Peace Corps with the Franklin H. Williams Award. Given every other year, the award recognizes ethnically diverse returned Peace Corps Volunteers who exemplify a commitment to community service and Peace Corps’ Third Goal of promoting a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.

Byron Williams (RPCV Lesotho 2003-2005, Youth Development and Ukraine 2011-2013, Education) received the Franklin H. Williams Award in 2010.

“The part that really got touched me was that all the Third Goal activities that I had been doing I had been doing because I loved helping out and presenting about Peace Corps whenever possible, at church, while volunteering in school classes, while talking to people at work, wherever.  I remember thinking that I wish I knew about Peace Corps at an earlier age or that someone had told me about it. I wanted to be that person for someone else,” Byron says. “Then to be recognized with other people of color who were passionate about the same thing was special too.”