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Leon Williams Papers

Identifier: MS-0398

Scope and Contents

The Leon Williams Papers document three decades of William's public service career, and includes news clippings, photos, correspondence, invitations, public appearance forms, public opinions, campaign information, reports, ordinances, plaques, certificates of achievement, various committee files, and conference minutes. During his time on city council, Williams advocated land use programs, revitalization of older neighborhoods, and the use of public transportation. The majority of the material dates from about 1970 to the late 1990's, and highlights these aspects of Williams' career. The collection is divided into five series:  Campaign Files (1969-1994), Conference Files (1974-2000), Professional Files (1966-2003), Personal Files (1961-2006), and News Clippings (1969-2002).

The Campaign Files (1969-1994) document Williams various campaigns, and includes pamphlets, correspondence (including congratulation messages), volunteers, topics, district maps, and voter data. The files are arranged chronologically by campaign years, followed by alphabetical general files that contain voter information and election topics. Williams' later campaigns (late 1980's, early 1990's) are poorly documented.

The Conference Files (1974-2000) document the various conferences Williams participated in. These files include meeting minutes, topics discussed at the conferences, notes, and conference handouts.The best documented conferences include CSAC and NACO conferences, but in general the Conference files are fairly small and superficial.

The Professional Files (1966-2003) document Williams' career in public service. This series is divided into four chronological sub-series, the Urban League Files, the District IV Files, which make up the bulk of this series, the MTDB Files, and the California Constitutional Revision Committee Files.  The Urban League sub-series document the early part of Williams' public service career and is organized alphabetically. The sub-series includes correspondence, police reports, Citizen Interracial Committee, and project files. Although these files are sparse in number, they provide insight into how William's began his public career. They also serve to highlight particular events and issues in the San Diego African American community during the late 1960's, such as the Morse High School student arrests. The District IV Files provide extensive documentation of Williams' career on the City Council. These files are divided into Chief-of-Staff Files and General Files.  The Chief-of-Staff Files were the records of Williams' Chief-of-Staff, Don Abel, and are arranged into two alphabetical sub sub-series: General Files and Subject Files. The General Files sub-series is likewise organized by alphabetical subjects.  Both the Chief of Staff Files and the General Files often overlap one another and detail various community projects, correspondence, committees, public opinion cards and ordinances. For example, the SAFE committee, Human Relations Commission, Southeast Economic Development Corporation (SEDC), growth management, airport issues, Blacks Beach, AIDS, and CSAC, are some of the main subjects covered by the District IV files. The public opinion cards give wonderful examples of what San Diegans thought about major San Diego issues, such as, the Claremont hospital and expanding the central library. In contrast, the MTDB Files document major transportation decisions, correspondence, maps, and reports that mainly relate to the San Diego Trolley and its eastward expansion. These files date from 1989 to 2004 and are organized alphabetically into two sub sub-series: General Files and Reports. The General Files contain correspondence, plans, news clippings, and subject files. The Reports consist of reports regarding environmental impact, transportation needs, and specific trolley stations.  There is limited documentation of San Diego State University's trolley station specifically, but good documentation of the Mission Valley extension line in general. The California Constitutional Revision Committee Files, on the other hand, document all its major conferences, and the topics discussed at those conferences, including possible amendments. These files include, conference materials and handouts, agendas, subject files, possible amendments and revisions, and meeting minutes.  These files are divided into alphabetical General Files and chronological Meeting Files.

The Personal Files (1961-2006) mainly document events, topics of interests, and involvement in organizations not specific to Williams' professional career and is organized alphabetically. The series contains photos; correspondence; invitations to community events, private gatherings, and state and federal conferences; public appearance forms; topics of interest; certificates of achievement; award plaques, and non-governmental organizations that Williams participated in. There is extensive documentation of Williams' invitations, public appearances, and achievements, especially during the early 1990's.

The News Clippings (1969-2002) provide excellent documentation of events and projects Williams, the MTDB, and the City Council were involved with. There are also clippings regarding Williams' personal achievements, and issues that Williams' was specifically interested in, such as AIDS. There are, however, very few articles from the late 1960's. The majority of the news clippings are from the mid 1970's to the early 1990's, although there are some clippings from the early 21st century and the early 1970's. These files are organized chronologically.


  • Creation: 1961-2006


Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

The copyright interests in some or all of these materials have not been transferred to San Diego State University. Copyright resides with the creator(s) of materials contained in the collection or their heirs. The nature of archival collections is such that multiple creators are often applicable and copyright status may be difficult or even impossible to determine. In any case, the user must assume full responsibility for any use of the materials, including but not limited to, obtaining publication rights and copyright infringement. When requesting images from Special Collections & University Archives for publication, we require a signed agreement waiving San Diego State University of any liability in the event of a copyright violation.

Biographical 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 Black person 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 served on the board of directors for the National Association of Counties. Both these associations 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 chairperson 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 also served as chairperson 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.


56.87 Linear Feet

Language of Materials


Arrangement Note

I. Campaign Files, 1969-1994
II. Conference Files, 1974-2000
III. Professional Files, 1966-2003
         1. Urban League, 1964-1975
         2. California Constitutional Revision Committee, 1974-1995
                 a. General Files, 1975-1995
                 b. Meeting Files, 1993-1995
         3. District IV, 1966-2003
                 a. Chief-of-Staff Files, 1970-2000
                         i. General Files, 1970-2000
                         ii. Subject Files, 1978-1994
                 b. General files, 1966-2003
         4. Metropolitan Transportation Development Corporation, 1986-2006
                 a. General Files, 1986-2006
                 b. Reports, 1987-1998
IV. Personal Files, 1961-2006
V. News Clippings, 1969-2002

Source of Acquisition

Leon Williams

Accruals and Additions

2004-022, March 2006, 2007-011, 2016-017

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Other Descriptive Information

This collection was processed as part of the San Diego African American Archives Project, made possible by a grant from the President's Leadership Fund.

Leon Williams Papers
Amanda Lanthorne
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
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Repository Details

Part of the Special Collections & University Archives Repository

5500 Campanile Dr. MC 8050
San Diego CA 92182-8050 US