Mabel Robinson Williams, fighter for human rights
On June 1, 1931 in Monroe, N.C., Mabel Ola Robinson was born, the second daughter to her proud parents Emma Perry Robinson and King David Robinson. Her older sister Elizabeth R. Redfern proceeded her in death.
As a child, Mabel grew up active with her family in the Elizabeth Baptist Church where she accepted Jesus Christ and was baptized. It was at this church she had her first encounters with the Williams family.
Though Mabel became acquainted with death at an early age through the death of her baby brother and natural father, she had a secure and happy childhood. Her stepfather Chalmers Barbour was a wonderful family man who loved, protected and provided well for the family.
As a teen bride, she married her late husband of 49 years; Robert Franklin Williams, Sr. Into their union Robert Franklin Jr. and John Chalmers were born. Together, lead by Robert Sr., the family would become a legendary family of the U.S. civil and human rights struggle and the “Black Liberation Movement.”
Mabel’s mother and father-in-law John L. Williams warned her marriage to Robert would not be a “normal,” yet, she had no idea how radical and turbulent her life would become. As a loving wife and mother in the 50s and 60s, Mabel was caught-up in the civil rights movement for de-segregation and justice. During this period, Mabel and family became known nationally and internationally for their activism. Mabel and Robert are hailed for their courageous and devoted leadership during this era. During most of the decade of the 60s, Mabel and family lived in Cuba and the People’s Republic of China and travelled to various countries in Asia, Africa, Latin America and Europe functioning as friendship ambassadors for the ever-intensifying African American struggle.
Through their advocacy and educational efforts, many foreign friends and world leaders became sympathizers and supporters of the African American struggle. In 1969, Mabel and Robert returned to the U.S. after three years in the People’s Republic of China. The two of them have been acknowledged for their contribution towards the thawing of relations between the United States and China during the Nixon administration, which led to entrance and normalized relations with China. A museum was dedicated in 1999 to Robert, Mabel and other international liberation fighters who had resided in China.
Upon returning to the U. S. in 1969, the Williams family lived in Detroit and Ann Arbor for a couple of years. They moved to Baldwin, Mich., in 1971 with intent of living a quiet and peaceful life in semi-retirement. It wasn’t long after becoming residents of Baldwin that Mabel and Robert observed the need and once again found themselves being called to community service. Mabel joined Saint Anne’s Catholic Church (where she remained a faithful member and served as a Eucharistic Minister) and became active in the social services delivery community.
In the mid-70s, in addition to her social services and church work, Mabel and husband Robert were actively involved in social justice advocacy, which led to the establishment of The People’s Association for Human Rights, Inc. In 1981, Mabel was appointed by then Gov. William G. Milliken as a delegate to represent Michigan at the White House Conference on Aging.
Over the years she worked for Michigan State University Extension Service, The 5-CAP Lake Mason and Newago counties, Senior Citizen Nutrition Program (Program Director), Oakland Manor Apartments, Congregate Housing Model Project of Baldwin (Human Services Coordinator), and Saint Anne’s Catholic Parish (Seniors Meals and Human Services Program), from which she retired as director in 1996.
The compassionate and giving spirit of Mabel R. Williams has touched many lives. Even in retirement and intermittent health challenges, she remained active in community affairs. Some of her affiliations and acknowledgements included: The Lake County Community Foundation (trustee); 5 County-Community Action Program, Board of Directors; Idlewild Merry Makers Board of Directors, Franklin Wright African American Museum of History member, recipient of the Saint Peter Claver Award-Grand Rapids, Mich.; Member of the Black Catholic Association of Michigan; recipient of the Queen Mother Audrey Moore Award, Temple University Black Studies Department, and first lady of the People’s Republic of New Africa. Mabel was also frequently called upon to share her life experiences with many churches, academic learning institutions, grass roots organizations and conferences nationally and internationally. In October of 2012, the Idlewild Cultural Conference Center was named Mabel R. Williams Cultural Conference Center as a tribute in her honor for her outstanding contribution to the City.
Mabel and Robert worked tirelessly together as one, in their contribution to the struggle to uplift Black people and marginalized humanity. It is impossible to speak of Robert Williams’ accomplishments and exploits in the civil and human rights struggle without simultaneously discussing the significant role this warrior woman played as his “help meet” by his side, at his back, out in front and behind closed doors as she followed Robert all around the world advocating and sounding the alarm for our people!
Throughout her life Mabel enjoyed greatly family interactions and many life long friendships. Those who knew her often described Mabel as a “people person” and experienced her contagious smile.
She leaves behind to grieve her passing her son John Chalmers Williams (wife Lisa), step-son Franklin Williams, and grandsons: Robert F. III, and Benjamin Paul Williams, and great-granddaughters: Cali and Sasha Williams, brother–in-law John H. Williams and a host of other relatives and friends.
Much of the story of Mother Mabel’s life is documented in the following media:
The Black Scholar, Spring 2013, vol. 43 number 1/2; “Negroes with Guns” book by Robert F. Williams; “Negroes with Guns” documentary film; “Radio Free Dixie, the Roots of Black Power” by Tim Tyson; www.freedomarchives.org/mabel.html; Robert F. Williams Collection, University of Michigan, Bentley Historical Library and a host of online resources.