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Memorial concert at NMSU to honor local hero, Tuskegee Airman Williams

On Saturday, Oct. 21, at 2 p.m. a memorial concert honoring a fallen local hero, who passed away Nov. 23, 2016, will be held in the Corbett Center auditorium on the New Mexico State University campus.

a man stands next to a building
Former Tuskegee airman and NMSU alumnus Dr. James B. Williams appears next to Memorial Tower on the NMSU main campus in Las Cruces. (photo by Darren Phillips)

During the dark times of World War II, a long-time resident of Las Cruces and a local hero fought two different wars: one against military forces overseas, another against discrimination within his own country.

Tuskegee Airman Dr. James Williams was one of many African American men to become a military aviator for the U.S. Armed Forces. These men challenged the stereotypes that had prohibited African Americans from serving as pilots.

And, despite putting their lives on the line, some making the ultimate sacrifice for their country, these Tuskegee Airmen, officers in the U.S. Armed Forces, were denied entry to the segregated officer’s club at Freeman Army Airfield in Indiana in 1945. They were ordered to stay out.

As a 1st Lieutenant in the U.S. Army Air Corps, Williams was one of the 101 Tuskegee Airmen officers who objected to the whites-only officer’s club. This local hero was arrested, charged with insubordination and ordered to face court marital. The charges were later dropped. In March 2007, Williams received a Congressional Gold Medal of Honor.

Later, Williams became a hero in the surgical field. He earned his B.S. from New Mexico A&M, his M.D. from Creighton University, and eventually his M.S. in surgery from Creighton. Becoming a general surgeon, Williams was once the doctor for Martin Luther King Jr. while King was living in Chicago.

In 1963, Williams and other African American physicians discussed plans with President John Kennedy to help legislation that withheld federal funds from hospitals that practiced racial discrimination.

This concert is open to the public and free of charge. It will involve a color guard, a proclamation from City of Las Cruces Mayor Ken Miyagishima and uplifting music.

William’s wife and two children will attend the memorial. James Williams Jr., Williams’s son, will provide a speech for the event and a video will be displayed featuring Williams speaking. Clayton Flowers, another Tuskegee Airman, long-time Las Cruces resident, and a close friend of Williams, will also speak during the memorial.

“It would be my honor to speak at an event honoring JB,” Flowers said, referring to Williams.

The NMSU gospel choir will perform during the memorial.

“It is an honor to perform in memory of a legend,” said Bobbie Green, NMSU gospel choir conductor.

A building on the NMSU campus is named after Williams’ mother, Clara Belle Williams. She was the first African American student to receive a diploma from NMSU in 1939. During this time schools were segregated, and she was not permitted to sit inside the classroom alongside her white peers. She was forced to partake in classes while sitting outside the classroom doors. Williams’s mother graduated and began teaching at a segregated single-room school for African American students in Las Cruces.

“It was Clara Belle Williams and other trailblazers of that era who paved the way for African American professors who look like me,” Green said. “Because of their determination, I’ve had the opportunity to teach at a university that once prohibited African American students from sitting inside the classroom.”

For more information on this special event honoring heroes contact Green at 575-635-7538 or bobbie@nmsu.edu./