Willie McCray
(1942 — 2006)


As remembered by Larry Rubin
October 11, 2006

I'm heartbroken to tell you that Willie McCray succumbed to brain cancer early this morning at a hospital near his home in Yellow Springs, Ohio.

During SNCC's years of struggle in the South, he was always there when you needed him: bringing you supplies in the dead of night to avoid the police; driving you away from life-threatening situations — or into them when needed. He did what was necessary to make sure SNCC's work happened.

In many ways, McCray (nobody called him Willie) was Jim Forman's get-it-done guy. He was the one who helped convince churches throughout the South to let us use their halls. He'd set up the room, make sure everybody was sufficiently fed, and see to it that the hall was left pristine so that the church group would let us use it again.

Most important, he'd make sure that Jim got to where he was supposed to be when he was supposed to be there — at least as much as this was possible.

McCray bubbled with enthusiasm, helping leaders recover their spirit so that they could continue to lead, and helping organizers overcome their fears so that they could help others overcome theirs.

McCray's enthusiasm for the Movement and Movement workers lasted his whole life. In recent years, at reunions throughout the South, he was the guy that most vigorously greeted and hugged everybody, making you feel that the Beloved Community was still alive after all.

McCray worked as the head of security at the National Afro-American Museum and Cultural Center, connected to Wilberforce College and Central State University in Wilberforce, Ohio. Most people visiting the museum probably didn't know that he himself had played an important, historic role. But a few years ago, the museum held a ceremony to honor him and I was privileged to be a presenter. McCray insisted that the ceremony concentrate more on the accomplishments of the Movement as a whole rather than on any one individual.

McCray's wife, Helen — also a Civil Rights hero — says that his most recent days were peaceful and happy. He visited with friends, listened to his favorite music, and spent only his last few days in a hospital. He was 64.


As remembered by Sheila Michaels
October 13, 2006

When I stopped by in Dayton to do an oral history interview with Helen & McCray, he tried to avoid talking for himself. Before I left, he came home during lunch, to do the interview. He became so overwhelmed by our losses in those years, & by the violence he/we faced, that he began to break down. His story was so affecting. I was crying, too, but trying to encourage him to go on. But the interview stopped there. I was hoping that someday I could go back & get his story.

He was a lovely, lovely guy, who really made the Movement work.


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