Robert Taylor, a historian and dean of the College of Psychology and Liberal Arts, was the keynote speaker at the posthumous celebration of fallen soldier Pondextuer Eugene Williams.
The October ceremony in Williams’ hometown of Fort Pierce featured full military honors at his burial site in Hillcrest Memorial Gardens. Williams was killed in action in Vietnam in 1970.
His death, and ensuring efforts by his family to have him buried at Hillcrest, became national news when the cemetery refused to take him because he was Black. Hillcrest offered to purchase a plot for him at Pine Grove, the local black cemetery.
Taylor knows the story well. In 2004, Florida Historical Quarterly published his paper, “In the Interests of Justice: The Burial of Pondexteur Eugene Williams.”
Mary Campbell, Williams’ mother, pushed back against the discrimination.
She retained famed civil rights attorney Ralph L. Flowers to represent her, and the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People began a campaign to spread the news of Mrs. Campbell’s troubles.
Eventually, the United States Southern District Court of Florida declared the racially restricted section of the cemeteries charter invalid. Williams was laid to rest in the Garden of Piece section of the cemetery under significant media coverage.