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Armstrong Williams Papers, 1987-2000
One and one-quarter linear feet, 1987-2000, document the meteoric career of Marion County native Armstrong Williams (b. 1959) who since the 1990s has gained national attention as a radio talk show and television host, syndicated columnist, and CEO of his own Washington, D.C.-based public relations firm. Reared on a two-hundred acre tobacco farm along with nine other children, "Mr. Righteous," as Williams has come to be known, is a self-proclaimed "progressive conservative" who in 1995 was identified by one observer as "the most important black communicator in America."

A 1981 graduate of South Carolina State University, Williams got his start in Washing-ton political and social circles as a staff aide to Senator Strom Thurmond and then as a legislative assistant to then-Congressman Carroll Campbell. Republican strategist Lee Atwater helped him secure a posi-tion as a legislative analyst at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. He soon became confidential assistant to Clarence Thomas when the present Supreme Court Justice was chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission. Williams served as one of the chief architects of Thomas' media strategy and thus a "critical player" in the 1991 confirmation hearings after President George Bush nominated Thomas to a seat on the Supreme Court (see David Plotz, "Mr. Righteous," in City Paper, 10-16 February 1995). "If Justice Thomas had not gone on the Supreme Court, and if I had not stood by him," Williams acknowledged, "I would not be in the position I am in today."

Williams subsequently became co-founder and eventual owner of the Graham Williams Group, the multifaceted Washington firm that "provides a wide range of media relations, public relations and related services to corporations and individuals," as set forth in a GWG promotional folio. "Williams offers clients the knowledge of a Washington insider who understands both the workings of Congress and the concerns of corpora-tions," the folio declares.

In 1992 Williams' popular and controversial two-hour radio show, "The Right Side," became a staple program on WOL (AM), Washington's most influential black-owned station, and by 1995 it had achieved national syndication on the Salem Radio Network, a Christian broadcasting company with more than four hundred affiliates. At that time Williams hosted the show live from 10 p.m. to midnight at the WAVA (FM) studio in Arlington, Va. That year he also inaugurated his own weekly, hour-long program on National Empowerment Television, broadcasting live each Friday night at 8:00 o'clock.

Another facet of Williams' media career revealed here is his connection with television producer Norman Lear, who purportedly took Williams as the model for the character of the twenty-year-old Republican son in the experimental sit-com "704 Hauser," which was considered a kind of reverse "All in the Family." "I talk to Norman every day," author Richard Poe quoted Williams as saying (Wave 3: The New Ear in Network Marketing, 1995). "They Fed-Ex scripts to me and I send my comments by fax. We've had brainstorming sessions where I just sit and talk for three hours and they tape me."

Williams' career as an independent and syndicated print journalist is represented here by many of his contributions to the op-ed pages of such publications as Newsday, The State, USA Today, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and the Washington Times. Other articles and essays appear in National Minority Politics, Reconstruction, Urban Profile, and The World & I. In the November 1995 Reader's Digest condensed version of his article "Black and Conservative?" which first appeared in the Washington Post, he wrote-"I was taught to rely on my own efforts, to respect honest labor and to treat people as individuals, rather than as categorical elements of a group. If that makes me a 'conservative,' it's no wonder 'liberal' has become a dirty word in America. People may marginalize me in their minds, but in my own, where it counts, I am a free man."

Other printed items include a pamphlet describing a memorial scholarship foundation established in 1987 in honor of Armstrong's father, James S. Williams (1920-1985), and as a tribute to his interest in education. "My father had only a third grade education," Williams has been quoted as saying (Success, June 1992), "but he taught me what I think is the most important principle in business: You don't make money unless you help other people make money. My father would let a hired hand till a row of beans for himself, so he could sell the produce; or he'd give him a hog to raise. Those people were very grateful to him, and they worked hard. They paid for themselves." The James S. Williams Memorial Scholarship Foundation was set up to provide in-state college scholarships for highly motivated disadvantaged youth from the Pee Dee section of the state.

Among the twenty photographs in the collection are two inscribed to Williams by Oprah Winfrey, who was the fiancee of his one-time business partner Stedman Graham. In addition to photographs of Williams and his family are those showing him with President George Bush, Strom Thurmond, Clarence Thomas, Alan Keyes, William Raspberry, and Roger Stauback. An informal portrait taken at the 1989 presidential inaugural ball depicts Williams with Coretta Scott King.

Included in this gift is a copy of Williams' 1995 book Beyond Blame. Subtitled "How We Can Succeed by Breaking the Dependency Barrier," it sets forth Williams' creed of "individual empowerment, hard work, faith, and social responsibility."

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