In Memoriam, Dr. Carolyn Williams
Durkeeville Historical Society Museum Curator
Department of History, University of North Florida

Dr. Carolyn Williams, a native of Jacksonville who grew up in Durkeeville and graduated from Bishop Kenny High School, was an Associate Professor in the Department of History, Director of the Gender Studies Program, and Co-Director of the Bette J. Soldwedel Gender Research Center at the University of North Florida (UNF). She received the following degrees: B.A. in Psychology from Immaculate Heart College (Los Angeles), B.A. in History from UNF, M.A. in History from University of California at San Diego, and a Ph.D. in History from UCLA. At UNF Dr. Williams taught classes in American History, Multicultural Studies, Gender Studies, and Public History. Dr. Williams, who became a prominent local historian, author and speaker, died Tuesday, November 29, 2011. She was 63 and had colon cancer.

Her primary research was on women and reform in antebellum America. She concentrated on the relationship between religion and reform, and the connection between the struggle for racial equality and gender equity. Her most recent essay, "Women and Liberal Religion: Feminist-Abolitionists in Antebellum Philadelphia and Boston," is in the anthology, The Meaning of Slavery in the North, published by Garland Press. In the fall of 2000, Dr. Williams received a scholar's grant from the Florida Humanities Council. This grant funded oral interviews with elderly African Americans in Nassau County. A narrative was constructed from the interviews and has been donated to the Amelia Island Museum of History. Recently Dr. Williams completed a traveling exhibit on local African American photographer Ellie Lee Weems. This project was also sponsored by the Florida Humanities Council. In 2006 her book, Historic Photos of Jacksonville, was published.

Dr. Williams had delivered a number of papers at professional conferences in American History, Multicultural Studies and Gender Studies. She had also lectured at schools, from the elementary to the college level, as well as museums and galleries, and had conducted a variety of workshops and forums. During the 1990-1991 academic year Dr. Williams conducted a series of workshops on "Infusing African American History into the Social Studies Curriculum" for social studies teachers sponsored by the Duval County School Board. In the summers of 1997 and 2004, she conducted a Florida Humanities Council Summer Institute for Teachers on "Race in America." In 2006 she began serving as a Road Scholar, sponsored by the Florida Humanities Council. Her Road Scholar talk was on "The Origins and Legacy of the Civil Rights Movement in Florida."

In the mid 1980s she delivered talks, sponsored by the Florida Humanities Council, on the contributions of African American natives of Florida to the Harlem Renaissance, evolved out of her interest and research in the role of the arts. Creating better partnerships between local art activists and institutions, the schools, and other facets of the Jacksonville community, was a special goal of Dr. Williams. She had worked on a number of projects sponsored by the Cummer Museum of Arts and Gardens. In a 2008 interview, she said history can help revitalize a community by instilling pride and encouraging people to invest in its future.

She served as the historian for the Durkeeville Historical Society, corresponding secretary of the James Weldon Johnson chapter of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH), historian for the Norman Studios Museum Board, a member of the Florida Historic Marker Commission, on the Executive Board of the St. Augustine Historical Society, a member of the Florida Task Force for African American History Curriculum, and a member of the advisory board of the Amelia Island Museum of History. She was also the Durkeeville Museum’s Curator from 1998 until her death.

Dr. Michael Francis, former chairman of the UNF history department, said he had received numerous email and Facebook messages from students, many who studied with her more than a decade ago and noted that her class was the one they remembered the most.

“She was an absolutely brilliant lecturer whose brilliance was exceeded only by her kindness,” Francis said.

Dr. Williams had a special connection with the Durkeeville Historical Center, and she will always be missed.

                                           © 2011 Durkeeville Historical Society

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