Black History in Arkansas: Sue Cowan Williams

    4:43 PM, Feb 7, 2014   |    comments
    • Sue Cowan Williams (Photo: Arkansas History Commission)
    • Postcard of Dunbar High School. The old Gibbs High School can be seen behind Dunbar at the far right edge. (Photo: LRSD archives)
    • Sue Cowan Williams Library (Photo: www.library.arkansas.gov)
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    LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) - Amongst all of the buildings in the Little Rock area named after major figures in Arkansas history stands the Sue Cowan Williams Library, named after a woman who took a stand against unequal pay between white and black teachers.

    Cowan Williams began her teaching career in 1935 at Dunbar High School. Several years into her time at Dunbar, Cowan Williams became a plaintiff in a class action lawsuit, called Morris vs. Williams, seeking a balance in salary between white and black teachers. The trial lasted a week, and the verdict was against her. She appealed a year later in 1943, and the verdict was rendered in her favor.

    As a result of her win in court, her contract and the contracts of several peers in the lawsuit were not renewed, so she began working at Arkansas AM&N College (Now known as University of Arkansas in Pine Bluff), Arkansas Ordnance Plant, and Arkansas Baptist College.

    Nearly a decade after her win in court, she was reinstated into the Little Rock School District in 1952 and taught at Dunbar until 1974 when she retired.

    Cowan Williams was very active her community, becoming a member of the following organizations:

    • Mt. Zion Baptist Church, as the church's first youth director.
    • Phyllis Wheatley Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA) in downtown Little Rock, as president
    • Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., as president
    • Little Rock alumnae chapter, as a founding member
    • Gamma Gamma chapter of Delta Sigma Theta on the campus of Philander Smith College, to help establish.
    • National Dunbar Alumni Association, Links, Inc.,
    • Urban League,
    • National Council of Negro Women.

    Named in her honor, the Sue Cowan Williams Library is the 10th library and the most expensive building in the Central Arkansas Library System to date; it appropriately serves the Dunbar community.

    For more information on Cowan William's battle for equality, read this entry in the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture: http://on.kthv.com/LV04hK

    (If you are currently on the mobile version of our website, you can find links to several places and and organizations that Cowan Williams has been a part of on our desktop version. In addition, you can find a link to the full text of her class action lawsuit.)

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