- The Washington Times - Monday, September 6, 2004

One of the early architects of modern-day black politics will be moving on to new challenges after leading the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies for 32 years.

Eddie N. Williams, 72, will step down at the end of the year as president of the center to become a political consultant in the District. He will be working three blocks from the White House to experience what he calls “the other side.”

“Most of my life I’ve been involved in nonprofit work, from the military to schools and here at the center. … I want to be helpful to other organizations and businesses,” he said.

The Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies was designed in 1970 to be a training and technical assistance program for fledgling black politicians seeking election across the country. But when the time came, Mr. Williams supervised the transformation of the joint center into one of the top research and statistical-analysis engines — for all politicians.

“In the beginning, the blacks who ran [for office] and won were simply natural leaders — farmers, ministers, teachers, store owners — but they were not largely educated in running government,” Mr. Williams said.

By the 1980s, black politicians, such as the late Atlanta Mayor Maynard Jackson and former congressman and Ambassador to the United Nations Andrew Young, were the norm, not the exception.

“We almost worked ourselves out of a job,” Mr. Williams said. “So we decided to focus more on information first and, second, do research of our own.”

Mr. Williams, a former journalist known for his objectivity, said one major difference between him and his predecessors was his political neutrality.

“Louis and Frank were Democrats; they wore it on their sleeves,” said Mr. Williams, referring to his predecessors Louis E. Martin, the first chairman of the board of governors, and Frank D. Reeves, the first president. “I have placed more emphasis on being fair and impartial in doing the same thing with Republicans that we do with Democrats, where we let the data speak for itself and you decide for yourself what it means.”

Born in Memphis, Tenn., to a jazz pianist and a hotel maid and raised under Jim Crow policies, Mr. Williams would graduate from the University of Illinois and go on to work for former senator and Vice President Hubert Humphrey.

“Eddie Williams has made a truly unique contribution to American life and black politics,” said D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democrat. “When I set out to build my commission on black men and boys, the first thing I did was go to the joint center to get a $100,000 grant.”

She said a report that the center released in the early 1980s on the destabilization of the black family inspired her work with the commission.

“He built from the ground up an institution that brought intellectual depth to the African-American community,” she said.

And that is what Mr. Williams said is his proudest accomplishment of all his work at the center.

“What I wanted was to build an institution; I think I have done that, built an institution that can survive beyond the leader,” he said.


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