Hardy Williams — the consummate pro-Black independent political insider and outsider- was born 87 years ago on April 14, 1931. He began his legislative career as a state representative in 1971 and served impressively for 11 years immediately after which he was elected state senator, a position he held for 15 productive years.
Shortly after I graduated from law school, I began looking for a job. But I didn’t know any lawyers or elected officials. So I sent my resume to every big name Black lawyer and every influential Black elected official in the city. Only one person responded. Even though I didn’t live in his district and had no patronage hook-up, Hardy Williams responded, interviewed me, and hired me as a Legislative Aide and ultimately promoted me to Staff Attorney. He also allowed me to sit with him and learn from him at the defense table during his murder trials. The rest, as they say, is history- thanks to him.
While in the legislature, he served on the influential Appropriations Committee as well as the Judiciary Committee, Urban Affairs Committee, Public Health and Welfare Committee and Local Government Committee. And he chaired the Task Force on Violence as a Public Health Concern.
Prior to his public service in the commonwealth’s General Assembly, he was an assistant city solicitor, a member of the Pennsylvania Legislative Black Caucus (which he was one of the founders with the Honorable K. Leroy Irvis), Black Political Forum (which he founded with the renowned John White Sr.), Barristers (Black attorneys) Association, Blacks Networking for Progress, Incorporated, Black Family Services, African-American Delaware Valley Port Corporation, Lincoln University Board of Trustees, Eighth District AIDS Task Force, Crisis Intervention Network, Organized Anti-Crime Network, Pennsylvania Task Force on Job Creation, and Urban Economics Strategies Task Force.
In addition, he was a recipient of the Buffalo Soldiers Award and the District Man of the Decade Award. Moreover, he was an Air Force second lieutenant in the Korean War and earned the Korean Service Medal, the National Defense Service Medal and the United Nations Service Ribbon.
Furthermore, he became the first viable Black candidate for mayor when he bucked the city’s Democratic machine and ran in 1971 against racist Frank Rizzo. He ignored the Democratic bosses because, in his words, “I was tired of plantation politics.” That’s precisely why Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Acel Moore described him as “the godfather of Black independent politics in Philadelphia.”
In 1979, he did something unheard of today. He promoted Black political unity by withdrawing from the Democratic primary to voluntarily step aside so Charles Bowser could run without having the Black vote split throughout the city. By the way, if he had been elected Philadelphia’s first Black mayor, 11 human beings, including five defenseless children, wouldn’t have been incinerated on May 13, 1985, and 61 homes wouldn’t have been destroyed in an inferno.
As told to me by Bowser, five of the city’s most savvy Black political leaders met at Mayor Wilson Goode’s home before dawn on that fateful day in response to his warning that “I’m going to make a move on the MOVE house… (this) morning.” As those five Black leaders watched the TV broadcast of the military-like assault unfolding with preliminary shots and tear gas fired, two of them repeatedly urged Goode to call it off. In particular, City Council President Joseph Coleman, sitting at the mayor’s kitchen table, told him the 500-strong police action was “excessive” and Hardy Williams, standing near the kitchen entrance, said, “Why don’t they just back up and relax? Nobody’s going anywhere.”
He was right.
Before any of Williams’ remarkable political accomplishments, he attended West Philadelphia High School (which was predominantly white in the 1940s when he was there) where he excelled on varsity baseball, basketball, and football teams and then enrolled at historic Cheyney University before attending Penn State University, where he starred as a Division I athlete. And- check this out — he became the first Black member in the school’s history.
But he didn’t stop there. He also became the team captain and led Penn State to its first tournament championship in 32 years. But he wasn’t just impressive brawn. He was also impressive brain, having graduated in the top of his class after having been elected President of the school’s Pre-Law Society and secretary-treasurer of its Athletic Association. After graduating from Penn State, he was admitted into the prestigious University of Pennsylvania’s law school where he earned a spot in its honor society.
One of his closest mentees, Tommy Reid, proclaimed, “Hardy was a great Black mentor and he had no problem with heaping enormous responsibilities on me and his many other young Black mentees because he knew we could get the job done with his guidance. He created the ‘Hardy Williams’ model of Black politics that our community should be applying in 2018 and beyond.”
And one of his closest confidants and the man who served as his campaign manager when he won his first state Senate seat is Alan Fastman who was chief of staff during Williams’ last six years in office.
As Fastman said, “Hardy had a talent that belied labels and that is sadly lacking in our current political class. He was a lifelong Democrat who reached across party lines to get things done. He was a champion of Black political empowerment who reached across color lines, a partner with police in organized anti-crime efforts while speaking out forcefully against police brutality. He was a proud and ambitious man who placed the good of the community above his self-interest.”
His son, state Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams, who’s an impressive political “chip off the old block,” told me: “My father’s legacy is complicated, extraordinary, and powerfully personal. His personal shortcomings were played out in public. His marital challenges, occasionally explosive temper, and his stubbornness were some of the issues the public saw and tried to reconcile with the idea of the man who was given such an important platform. Without a doubt, my father will always be remembered most for his extraordinary ability to maintain a personal touch while mentoring countless young people, shepherding an independent political era, and supporting the creation of a next generation of leaders. Finally, his presence as a friend penetrated every relationship he ever had. His expectations led you to reach for excellence as he served as your loudest cheerleader. That was extremely intimate and powerful.”
Hardy Williams became an ancestor on Jan. 7, 2010. But he never really died, though. He actually remains alive every time one Black youngster gets a hand up from one Black elder simply because they’re both Black and qualified.