Reprinted from: Wednesday, September 17, 2008
By Robert McClendon
Henry Williams, known to some as the father of Africatown, died Monday at his home in Mobile after a battle with cancer. He was 88.
Williams is regarded by many as the founder of the Africatown movement, which pushed for the preservation of the area surrounding Magazine Pointe in northeast Mobile as a historical site. The area was the landing site of the Clotilde, the last known slave ship to bring Africans to America for the purpose of slavery.
A welder and historian, who at one time drove around with a metal buffalo in the back of his pickup truck, Williams was known to speak authoritatively on a range of subjects, seamlessly weaving fact and apparent fiction for the sake of the yarn, according to some people who knew him well.
The Mobile City Council was one of his most frequent audiences.
“He was at meetings so often, he probably thought that he was a council member,” said Clinton Johnson, who represents the city’s third district.
During one of the meetings, Johnson said, Williams regaled the council with a tale of bravery that involved him fighting Adolf Hitler to save a group of women, getting all the fingers on one of his hands shot off in the process. While telling the story, Johnson said, Williams gestured with the allegedly wounded hand, all fingers accounted for.
At other times, Williams would inform the council on the ins and outs of Mobile’s past and present.
“In my experience, he was very well read, very well experienced,” Johnson said. “He had a great command of history.”
That Williams was known to tell a tall tale shouldn’t detract from his status as a veritable encyclopedia of local history and lore, according to his lifelong friend Joseph Collier, who grew up with Williams in the Plateau community. “In his house were books on top of books,” Collier said. “And you could point to any book, and he could tell you what it said because he read each one of them….