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Williams, Leon | Special Collections & University Archives

Name: Williams, Leon

Historical Note:

Leon Williams was born in Oklahoma, but moved to Bakersfield, California during the Great Depression.  He received a BA in psychology from San Diego State College in 1950.  He also studied law and public policy.  After graduating, he worked as a social worker in the San Diego Sheriff's Department.  Later, Williams worked for the Urban League, a movement dedicated to "empowering African Americans to enter the economic and social mainstream," and became the director for the Neighborhood Youth Corps Program, which helped underprivileged youth in San Diego by offering job placement services and educational opportunities.  Williams was also active on the Citizens Interracial Committee (CIC), which worked to combat racism and alleviate racial tension specific to San Diego neighborhoods.

In 1969, Williams became the first African American elected to the San Diego City Council as a representative for District IV.  He later became county supervisor in 1982. As County Supervisor, Williams was president of the California State Association of Counties in 1993, and he was on the board of directors for the National Association of Counties.  Both these associations serve to represent county governments before the state and federal legislatures.

During Williams' years in the City Council, he helped initiate the Southeast Economic Development Corporation (SEDC) and the Regional Growth and Planning Review Task Force to promote land use programs in order to revitalize and sustain low to moderate income communities.  Land use advocates, city planners, and environmentalists comprised the Growth Task Force.  He similarly co-chaired the City-County Reinvestment Task Force to encourage financial institutions to reinvest in these dilapidated neighborhoods.  Williams also established the Martin Luther King Park, and endorsed the downtown redevelopment project.

In addition to (re)development projects, Williams created the Human Relations Commission and the Hate Crimes Registry to tackle racial and religious tensions.  He fought for state constitutional reform as a member of the California Constitutional Revision Committee, and helped change the county charter to increase government accountability.  Williams' Prevention Policy sought to create long-term solutions for issues such as crime, drugs, welfare, and health concerns.  He was a proponent of needle exchange programs to help fight against AIDS, and was a supporter of the anti-smoking ordinance.  During this time, Williams also taught public policy classes part-time at San Diego State University.

Although Williams worked as a councilman, he was also active with the Metropolitan Transit Development Board (MTDB).  In 1976, he began his long tenure with the MTDB, and in 1994 was appointed chairman of the Transit System's board of directors.  Williams had always supported the use of public transportation as a means to connect and revitalize San Diego's older neighborhoods, rather than expand into undeveloped areas.  He believed the creation of the San Diego Trolley was the best way to achieve this goal.  He was also the chairman of the Services Authority for Freeway Emergencies (SAFE), and was responsible for freeway call boxes.

He retired from City Council in 1995, and the MTDB in 2005.  Leon Williams is married to Margaret Williams.  They have a daughter named Alisa.


Ristine, Jeff.  "Soft-spoken visionary to end 3 decades of public service." San Diego Union Tribune, SanDiego,  Accessed 21 December 2005.

Note Author: Amanda Lanthorne

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