NASHVILLE, TN – Former Nashvillean Dr. Jamye Coleman Williams, renowned and influential educator, church leader and social reform activist, whose alumni included talk show host Oprah Winfrey, opera singer Leontyne Price and Olympic track star Wilma Rudolph, died Jan. 19. 2022 in Atlanta, GA, just over a month after celebrating his 103rd birthday on December 15.
Jamye and her 75-year-old husband, famed educator McDonald “Mack” Williams, who died on August 11, 2019, were teachers at Tennessee A&I – now known as Tennessee State University – when they were involved as organizers backstage in Nashville. sit-in movement at the downtown lunch counter during the civil rights movement in the early 1960s.
At the time, Jamye was an adviser for the NAACP Youth Council and served on the executive committee of the organization’s Nashville branch. Each week they had mass meetings and the couple ferried students from various college campuses to First Baptist Church downtown, where the sit-ins were held under the leadership of the church’s Reverend Kelly Miller Smith.
Born in Louisville, Kentucky, Jamye earned a bachelor’s degree with honors from Wilberforce University in Ohio in 1938 and a year later earned a master’s degree in English from Fisk University in Nashville. Over the next two decades, she taught English at Edward Waters College, Shorter College, Morris Brown College, and Wilberforce University before completing her doctorate in voice communication at The Ohio State University in 1959.
That fall, she joined the faculty at Tennessee State University and became a full professor of communications and took over as head of the department in 1973, remaining there until her retirement in 1987.
Jamye and Mack Williams were early supporters of the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee.
In 1992, just a year after the Foundation was established, they established the Williams Designated Fund to benefit Wilberforce University and Payne Theological Seminary. The Williams, who have served on the boards of each of these esteemed institutions, wanted to endow their support. In perpetuity, payments from this fund will be made annually to these schools.
Along with a number of community leaders, they helped establish the Tercentenary Fund with CFMT in 1996, with grants from the Fund designed to meet pressing needs in the future.
In 2002, the Foundation honored the couple with its annual Joe Kraft Humanitarian Award. Jamye has also served on the CFMT Board of Directors.
“I remember the recent death of distinguished actor and activist Sidney Poitier, how my dear friend Jamye Williams reminded me of Poitier’s character in the movie, ‘To Sir, With Love,'” said Ellen Lehman, President from The Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee “They were both teachers who always put people in situations where good things happen.”
According to his biography in The History Makers: A Digital Repository for The Black Experience, at the same time as his college career took off, Jamye began to rise through the leadership ranks of the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME). She was a delegate to the AME General Conference in 1964 and became a member of the National Council of Churches Board of Trustees in 1968. From 1976 to 1984 she was an alternate member of the Judicial Council of the AME Church, as president of the 13th district. Secular organization from 1977 to 1985.
At the 1984 General Conference, Williams was named editor of The AME Church Review, the oldest African-American literary journal. She held this position for eight years. Williams also paved the way for other AME members, helping Vashti McKenzie win election as the first female AME bishop.
Here is the video we put together with Jayme Williams shortly after her 100th birthday. It features a special message from Oprah herself.
Here is the original video from which we extracted the footage of Jayme… his segment starts at 6:57