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Alumnus Eric Williams II ’22 Reflects on the Family Legacy That Lives On in Him

Home Law School News Alumnus Eric Williams II ’22 Reflects on the Family Legacy That Lives On in Him

Eric Williams II ’22 reminded the crowd gathered Wednesday at South Texas College of Law Houston that American history is filled with the contributions of millions of ordinary Black men and women — individuals who have laid a foundation upon which our nation continues to build today.

Williams, a litigation associate at Foley & Lardner, LLP, was the guest speaker for the Black History Month Celebration hosted by the Benny Agosto, Jr. Diversity Center at the law school. The Jack Yates High School Ensemble set the tone for the event with a spoken word piece called, “They Keep Coming” and the moving song “Rise Up.”

“My grandmother always tells me, ‘To get where you’re going, you’ve got to know where you come from. And you come from good stock,’ ” he said. “When she says that, she’s not referencing social standing. She means qualities like strength, resilience, courage. She means those passed-down stories of ordinary heroes we call family who shape who we are today. Those stories are Black history, and we use those stories to catapult us to progress and change.”

In introducing the speaker, Vice President for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion and Professor of Law Shelby Moore called Williams “one of her favorite people” and noted his many accomplishments — including first Black male South Texas Law Review editor in chief, first Black valedictorian for the law school, and the only Texas law student named a 2022 National Jurist Law Student of the Year.

“I appreciate the kind introduction and the references to my achievements,” Williams said. “When I hear those, I can’t help but think those are merely extensions of my grandfather, Earl Leon ‘Scoby’ Williams, Sr. The history he made in his lifetime is the foundation of my story today.”

Williams’ grandfather was All-State in football and basketball at Jack Yates High School from 1938-40 and continued his athletic success at what is now Texas Southern University. He became an Army staff sergeant and earned two Bronze Hearts and a Purple Heart. He married, completed the police academy in Houston, and became an officer in 1948. Because he was not allowed to ride in a car with white officers, Officer Williams walked his beat every day, rain or shine.

In 1954, he passed the civil service exam and earned his detective shield — the first Black officer in the police department’s history to attain the rank of detective under the civil service rules. One year before the polio vaccine was available, Detective Williams contracted polio. Despite the crutches and a wheelchair, he returned to work shortly after his diagnosis — and he never missed a day of work for the next 40 years.

“My grandfather’s contributions paved the way for others,” Williams said. “This man was my loving grandfather. An inspiring detective. A good man. And I’m a living legacy of him.”

Prof. Moore noted that Black History Month is more than sharing the stories of individuals making contributions who happen to be Black. “It’s the foundation built over time that we are building on.”

She encouraged the crowd of law students to not simply stand on the sidelines. “What are you doing to make sure people are heard? That people are seen? This work is much larger than a day or a year… it’s one part of a larger story. Remember what this is all about. Remember, we’ll all get there together.”

President and Dean Michael F. Barry referenced the importance of precedent in law, noting “what happened in history influences what happens tomorrow. We cannot tolerate miscarriages of justice — even far in the past — because what we tolerate, we teach. And what we teach, we do again. We have a responsibility to make a difference for tomorrow — to make sure we are creating a better future.”

Williams said those who make history often don’t set out to do so. “Maybe they were at the right place at the right time with the right purpose. Maybe they blazed trails or took paths less traveled. Most are unsung heroes, but they shape the legacy and create the future. Ordinary Black women and men — engineers, teachers, authors, lawyers, soldiers — have made an extraordinary impact on our nation.”

He concluded with his favorite saying from his grandmother. “To get where you’re going, you’ve got to know where you come from. I’m proud to know I’ve come from good stock, and I hope you will learn all you can about the people on whom you are building your legacy. That’s what makes Black history so special.”

View more photos from the event here: Agosto Center Black History Month Celebration 2024

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