JOHN DAVIS WILLIAMS - SIXTH PRESIDENT, 1942-1946
John D. Williams, the newest member of the "Big Green fighting team" became Marshall College’s sixth President in 1942 at the beginning of the Second World War. He saw the institution through those difficult and trying years; the campus was put on a war footing. Enrollment declined as young men enlisted in the armed services. Without adequate male students the football and other athletic programs were put on hold until the end of the hostilities. During the war 1,600 men passed through training for the College’s Army Air Corps and Naval Reserve Air Cadet Training Program. Perhaps due to the lack of male students or maybe the shortage of paper, the College’s yearbook, The Chief Justice ceased publication during the war. Badly needed construction and building maintenance was put on hold as well. In fact, the entire campus "had been largely absorbed in the war against the Axis Powers" during Williams’ stint as President. He could have stayed to help with the College’s postwar booming recovery, but he aspired to become a university president. He responded to an advertisement for the Chancellor of the University of Mississippi in 1945 and was hired, leaving Marshall College in September1946.
John Davis Williams, the son of Victor Oldham Williams and Lucy (Davis) Williams, was born at Newport, Kentucky, on Christmas day, 1902. He attended local public schools. Even before he received his degree, he taught elementary school at California, Kentucky, in 1923, and served as principal of an elementary school at Southgate, Kentucky for 1923 to 1925. He received his B. A. from the University of Kentucky in 1926. From 1926 to 1928 he was the superintendent of schools at Crab Orchard, Kentucky, and 1929 he took the same job at Falmouth, Kentucky. That same year he accepted the position of principal of the Junior and Senior High School at Danville, Kentucky, where he served until 1934. While working at Danville, he completed his work on a M. A. Degree from the University of Kentucky in 1930. In 1934 and 1935 he worked for the Tennessee Valley Authority as the superintendent of schools at Norris, Tennessee.
JIn 1935 he joined the faculty of University of Kentucky as an associate professor of education and director of the University High School. Two years later he was promoted to the director of the University Elementary and High School. In 1940 he earned his Doctor of Education from Columbia University. In 1942 he became Marshall College’s president, remaining until 1946.
That year he accepted the offer to become the Chancellor of the University of Mississippi at Oxford, where he remained for the next twenty-two years. He conformed to the University’s segregationist position, which brought national attention to the institution when it denied the admission of the civil right activist, Medgar Evers, in 1954, who later filed a law suit against the university. That same year the Supreme Court issued Brown vs. Board of Education, overturning the segregation laws of denying African-Americans access to public schools. However, it took eight years before the first African-American was enrolled at Ole Miss. On the September 30, 1962, the university admitted James Meredith, an African-American student, following a court ruling. During this period of unrest, Williams kept the university open and sought to ease the arrival of additional African-American students. Williams left the university in 1968.
He married Ruth Margaret Link at Columbus, Ohio, on June14, 1924. They had one daughter, Ruth Harter Williams. After a long illness, he died on May 29, 1983, at his home in Oxford, Mississippi.
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