[From the program booklet of William Douthard's Eulogistic Service, held at the Bethel Baptist Church, Birmingham, Alabama, Saturday, January 10, 1981.]
[See also I'll Never Forget Alabama Law by William Douthard.]
In the early 1960s in his home town of Birmingham, Alabama he was a leader of the Alabama Student Movement for Human Rights . . . He joined the field staff of the SCLC in 1961 and worked in various campaigns until 1964 when he joined the staff of CORE. Late in 1964 he moved to NYC and worked for the International Ladies Garment Workers Union in the Political Education Department. From 1968-1978 William worked with several agencies dealing with the problems of urban youth in NYC, including the Addiction Service Agency and The Family Youth Center in Brooklyn which was unique in its efforts as a community based program.
William was involved in the peace movement as well. He sat on the executive committee of the War Resistors League and served on the Board of Directors of WIN, a publication of the peace movement. He also served on the board of the AJ Muste Memorial Institute.
In 1978 William came to Albany to join the affirmative action staff of the Department of Taxation and Finance, serving as Supervisor of Affirmative Action Plan and Program. His remarkable leadership talents were recognized; and after a short term as Director of Affirmative Action at the Office of Mental Retardation, he was appointed Assistant Commissioner for Affirmative Action in the Department of Corrections where he was serving at the time of his death.
As remembered by Sheila
April 21, 2013
"Meatball" was always in such a hurry to live his life, it seemed he must have had some knowledge that his time was short. I met "Meatball" (William) after we left the Southern Movement. It must have been in the autumn of 1964. We were introduced by my former roommate, Mary Hamilton: he had become Mary's protege in Alabama when she was CORE's first female Field Secretary, and then when she was in Louisiana as Southern Regional Director. She was fiercely protective of him & fiercely critical.
"Meatball" was brilliant. His Junior High science teacher in Birmingham had given him the nickname, 'because he was round & black'. He had turned the insult around & made the name famous in the Movement. I believe that bit of spite was the teacher's retaliation for being corrected in class. Just an educated guess.
Meatball had joined the Birmingham Bus Boycott when he was 13. He told a story about blocking the bus door, the driver pulling a gun on him & staying put, despite realizing he'd just wet his pants. Meatball went to Xavier University when he was 15, so he was probably destined for medical school. But, he was so involved in the Movement, that he had to drop out.
In Alabama, Mary had mentored both Meatball & Arlene Wilkes, whose family had entrusted her to Mary. CORE allowed underage local activists to join locally, but not to travel, or be on staff: partially to avoid charges of contributing to the delinquency of minors. Meatball's father was a Pullman Porter & Cook. A. Phillip Randolph's Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters gave men job security that made retaliation for their children's activism less likely, at least in employment. I think William had his family's blessing, though I'm sure they would have preferred he stay in university.
CORE did its best for the young activists. When Arlene Wilkes came to New York, a CORE-affiliated family took her in while she finished high school & went through nursing school. I'm almost positive that Meatball also came to New York because Mary encouraged him to. Mary was so very proud of him: but she'd been raised by nuns of the old school & it wasn't something she was likely to say.
When Meatball arrived, he immediately got a job with the International Ladies Garment Worker's Union, although he might not even have turned 18. CORE had strong ties to the Labor Movement, especially through Marvin Rich, & was usually able to find jobs to sustain returning activists.
Meatball worked his way up very quickly. He got an apartment, a couple of blocks away from Pat & Frank Nelson, me, Jean Thompson & Moon Eng, Roz Singho & Herb Randall, & Mary. Many returning Vets clustered close, in the far reaches of the Lower East Side. It was hard to connect, really, to people who did not understand what you had been through. So, many former Movement people gravitated there. Lower East Side apartments were very cheap, then. I remember Hellen O'Neal McCray & Willie McCray telling me they met when they lived in the same building in the East Village. They didn't know each other although they had both been in the Movement. I think they said they met when he came in to help her put out a fire in her apartment.
I had always believed that Meatball renewed an acquaintance with Vivian when she moved into his building. I'm so naive. It didn't occur to me that because she knew him from the Gadsden movement, that she might have followed him at his behest. Vivian had a daughter who was 18 months old & Meatball couldn't stop boasting about her. Frances was thirteen before I heard her name. I thought she was named "My Little Girl". That touched me so, having been a hated stepchild since I was four. His devotion to "My Little Girl" was indicative of his loving character. The odd thing was, that when I married, in '79, the one person in the wedding party that my Stepfather completely connected with was Meatball. Even though he was in unions & affirmative action.
In fact, William came to our wedding night, as well. It was too far to drive back to Albany, so he spent that sultry, un-air-conditioned August 4th on our couch, outside our wedding chamber. Better than Pat & Frank Nelson's wedding night in my bed. They stayed too late at their party & zonked out in my bed, until a latecomer took me to his mother's in Brooklyn.
Mary & I tried to talk William out of marrying at 18, but to no avail. It was probably for the best, as his life was so short he might never have had a family, otherwise.
He and Vivian had two sons, but the marriage didn't last very long. They seemed to be happy for a while. I remember a super party at their apartment, where I met Morgan Freeman. Anyway, it didn't last.
During the Great Blackout of November 1965, Meatball came by very late, when I was having an impromptu party. I had been preparing dinner for a tete-`-tete, but my friend was stuck in an elevator at the Teacher's Union. Anyway, I wound up with an apartment full of people partying by candlelight when Meatball dropped by. He had gotten people out of his office building, then had been directing traffic in the streets near the ILGWU office, & then he drove fellow workers home. Some of my other guests stayed overnight, my date was rescued & managed to walk back from the Teacher's Union. The weather was mild, the streets were lit by a gorgeous full moon & New York was full of couples strolling hand in hand. It was a rare evening. Meatball got himself home to Brooklyn, but his was the most heroic of our stories that night.
Some years later, William moved to Albany, supervising Affirmative Action programs: first in Taxation and Finance, eventually for the Department of Corrections. He married Kim and became stepfather to her son Kip. Meatball had the ability to get everyone to the table, got them laughing & got them agreeing. At his memorial service there was not a foot of standing room. It seemed that every Police Officer in the state had crowded into that hall.
When William died, a friend asked me if he had been fit. I told him about the winter night we had all been dancing at the Old Reliable on Third Street. It had a good jukebox & a bouncer at the door who wore a helmet & carried a bat. Snow was deep, at closing, & a VW Beatle full of people was spinning its wheels, futilely trying to get out of the snow bank. Meatball told them to kill the engine & he lifted the Beatle & grateful people over the snow heap. It was an embolism that killed him, not that he could do in four chicken dinners in succession at Princess Pamela's. Princess Pamela was a martinet, but would stay open late, only for him. He savored the last dinner every bit as much as the first.