Interview with Robert Williams


Robert Williams:

Yes, well the demonstrations in Monroe started early, in fact we had demonstrations before the whole civil movement had started. That was because early in the summer in the late fifties, we had a situation wherein I think it was three cases of small black boys drowning, and uh, as a result of this we asked the city officials to build a black pool in the community, in the black community. So that black kids would have a place to swim, without swimming in these unsupervised uh, swimming holes. And uh, they said they didn't have the money. So then we asked that they set aside three days a week. That in the regular pool that had been built by federal funds under the WPA work projects of America system and uh, they said they couldn't do that. So we asked for two days. Then we asked for one. We were willing to settle for one day that the local pool would be reserved for black kids. And they said no. And we asked why, and they said it would be too expensive. And we wanted to know, how would it be so expensive? And they said uh, that because after the blacks had finished swimming in the pool, they would have to empty all of the water out and drain it and this was an expensive process. So then we took the position that uh, if they didn't have the money, that segregation was too expensive for them, it was a luxury they couldn't afford and they had no business trying to have it. So we just started direct action against the local pool which was closed and has been closed ever since. In fact, I was back there uh, a few months ago and the pool is still closed, and on the highway and they called, the local people, refer to it as "Robert Williams Monument" because it is standing there dry. That's how it got started with the demonstrations. Also in uh, later years as we continued dealing in NAACP uh, chapter there, we attacked a library, integrated it uh, early, but in the final analysis, the—when we started the serious, very serious demonstrations and uh, 1961—that we had a ten point program. In fact we produced a program that's early 1960 that had ten points. When other people in the South just asking for service and uh, lunch counter stools and that uh, public restrooms, we were asking for uh integrated facilities in the hospital and the school and in the county and in uh, local government employment, also uh, abolition of police brutality. So we had the first widespread program in the whole nation.