Judge Robert Wesley Williams, Jr
1923 – DOD
Navigator T 145 158 Bombardier
Judge Robert W. Williams, Jr. was born in Providence, Rhode Island on July 3, 1923 to Robert W. Williams, Sr. and Ada Coston Williams. He had three sisters, Honora, Shirley, and Jacqueline. All are deceased. He met Gloria Pressly, a native Philadelphian, at Howard University and they married in 1947. They were married for 29 years. They have four children, Robert W. Williams, III, Ronald K. Williams, Gail P. Williams, and Barry C. Williams, six grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. He married Julia Watson in 1988.
His date of active duty was April 21, 1945 as a Navigator. He separated from military service on November 19, 1945, as a member of the 2143rd Army Air Force Base Unit at Separation Base Westover Field Mass. He was selected for elite cross-training and attended Aerial Gunnery School, Bombardier School and Navigation School. His citations include the WW II Victory Ribbon II and the American Theater Ribbon.
Judge Williams has been a resident of Philadelphia since 1952. He started his legal career in Philadelphia after graduating from Howard University and Boston University School of Law. His professional experience included a diversified private law practice encompassing both civil and criminal litigation. As a member of the District Attorney’s Office where he was a trial attorney and the first Black Chief of the Homicide Unit from 1958-1963, he tried the most important homicide cases in Philadelphia. He served as Special Counsel to the Philadelphia City Council. He was known for his professionalism and coolness under pressure that became his Hallmark, and that was acknowledged by the Bench, the Bar, and indeed the public.
Named to the Common Pleas Court of Philadelphia County in 1969 and he was elected in his own right in 1970, Judge Williams was one of the first Black lawyers to be seated on the Court. He presided over very significant trials and received acclaim for his integrity, judicial temperament, and scholarship.
Elected to the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania in 1980, Judge Williams was the 13th Judge to serve this Court and the first African-American. He was recognized as a brilliant jurist and devoted public servant.
Judge Williams is indeed a trailblazer and history maker. He is one of the founders of the Barristers’ Association of Philadelphia established in 1950 to address the professional needs and development of Black lawyers in Philadelphia. He is the third Black to serve on the Philadelphia Board of Education in 1963. During his storied career he served as the Director of Model Cities of Philadelphia; Board of Trustees, Temple University; Board of Governors, Philadelphia Bar Association; Committee of Censors, Philadelphia Bar Association; Fairmount Park Commission; Treasurer, Regional Justice Commission; Board of Directors, The Center – A Place to Learn; Board of Directors, Mental Health Center; Board of Directors, Diamond Family Medical Center; Trustee, Pop Warner Little Scholars, Inc; Member, State Advisory Committee; Member, Camp Hill Review Panel; Board of Trustees, United Fund; Philadelphia Bar Association; Pennsylvania Bar Association; American Bar Association; Philadelphia Booster Club; American Veterans Committee; Lawyers Club of Philadelphia; Chairman, Model Cities Economic Development Foundation; Greater Philadelphia Chapter Tuskegee Airmen, Inc; Squires Golf Club; and Freeway Golf Club.
On February 12, 1963, Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, Judge Williams was a guest of the Kennedy White House to commemorate the centennial anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. Simeon Booker, considered the dean of Washington’s Black press corps, chronicled the evening in his memoir, Shocking the Conscience. The party’s guest list, 94-year-old Booker says, was like a “Who’s Who” of American Blacks. Judge Williams has been a member of Alpha Phi Alpha, Inc., the oldest intercollegiate historically African-American fraternity for almost 80 years. Members of this fraternity include Martin Luther King, Jr., NAACP Founder W.E.B DuBois, Justice Thurgood Marshall, and United Ambassador Andrew Young. He is a lifetime member of the NAACP.