The Tru Story of
My grandmother remembered “Uncle Elbert” to be a generous and kind man who took great pleasure in treating his nieces to movies, ice cream, and other special treats that they might not have experienced from their parents at the time.
Mrs. Mildred Bond Roxborough, the daughter of then NAACP President Ollie Bond, remembers her father speaking highly of Elbert. “He was younger than most of the members, but my father convinced him to get involved and hold an office in the NAACP.” Some saw Elbert as the next NAACP President because he was smart and “wouldn’t back down”. This was a necessary attribute for the position at the time. Mrs. Roxborough remembers several times as a young girl seeing her father come home badly beaten by white men who were encouraging him to stop his work on voting rights. In fact, shortly after Elbert’s Mr. Bonds was given word on Christmas Eve that he should leave town or he would be killed that night. He left that day and later that night his beautiful show home was burned to the ground.
Elbert was a threat
Young, articulate, smart, trustworthy, and outspoken; Elbert was a threat. Elbert was a loyal and dedicated fireman at the Sunshine Laundromat doing what would now mostly be considered as “dry cleaning”. He was so loyal that his wife Annie knew there was definitely foul play going on when he did not arrive to work the day after he was taken from his home.
“Of the three West Tennessee counties, Haywood County is singled out particularly as harboring a racial situation where Negroes ‘are afraid to register’…NAACP reports trace this condition to a series of ‘mob intimidations’ and the 1940 murder of a Negro active in the association,” – W.M. Day.
The threat white people must have felt by Elbert’s existence was evidenced by the cruel way in which he was murdered. When two fisherman found Elbert’s body floating in the Hatchie River three days after he had been kidnapped from his home, his body was badly decomposed and weighed down by a log. Furthermore his body was bruised with two holes in his chest and his tongue and manhood had been ripped from his vessel and shoved into his mouth.
When I think about my Great Grand Uncle I think about my grandmother and her parents and all that the family that endured the pain and trauma behind his death. My family was hardworking and entrepreneurial with businesses, homes, a chapel, a cemetery and many talents. After Elbert’s death, many of my family members, along with dozens of others, abandoned everything to migrate North. Our family has been robbed and cheated out of our legacy many times over.
I have so many thoughts about Uncle Elbert. Sure, he was killed over 80 years ago but he walked and lived with the people that I love that were still roaming the earth until very recently. My mom and her generation weren’t given the same charge. It is up to our generation to seek justice for our grandparents or we will find ourselves crying over the injustices sure to come to our own children and grandchildren.
Today, I speak from a place of healing and pride in the accomplishments and perseverance of my family and am honored to be “home” in Brownsville as well as Ann Arbor.
About Elbert Williams
“Who was Elbert Williams” by Jim Emison
“Little Known Black History Fact: Elbert Williams
Attorney driven to solve 1940 slaying of NAACP Activist; ‘It was just like was discarded’