mayor anthony williams -- 2/1/21

Today's selection -- from The Price of Motherhood by Ann Crittenden. Anthony Williams was mayor of the District of Columbia from 1999 to 2007 and is considered "one of the best and most successful mayors in U.S. history." He was adopted at age 3  by Virginia and Lewis Williams, who were told when they adopted him that he had an intellectual disability:

"As [Mayor Anthony Williams' mother] Virginia tells the story, a white postal office coworker kept bringing in pictures of his little foster son. 'I looked at those pictures and I said, "That's not a white child!" We later found out the boy's mother was white, an unmarried seventeen-year-old, and the father was black. Her family wouldn't let the girl keep the baby, and she had put him into foster care.

"'I believed the foster father loved that child dearly. But I think his wife may have neglected him,' she continued. 'I worried about that, and about a black child growing up in a poor white neighborhood. I sent his picture around to all of my black friends who didn't have children, but not one would adopt him; they all had one reason or another. His head was a little bit disfigured from lying in the crib ... and although he was three years old, he hadn't said a word yet. The foster parents had him tested, and the father told me they were going to send him to a home for retarded children. 

"'I knew that child wasn't retarded. I told my husband that I felt like God wanted us to have this child. Tony was exactly two years younger than my oldest, Lewis, and two years older than my second child, Virginia. I firmly believed that God had left that space for Tony.

"'My husband thought I was crazy. We already had two young kids, and I was pregnant again. Our priest said I shouldn't do it; that it wouldn't be fair to our other children, who had very high IQs, to bring a retarded child into the house. But my husband said if you can get the money to adopt him, you can.'

"Virginia sang professional light opera whenever she could, and she raised money for the adoption by recording for the sound track of the film Carmen Jones. Only a couple of weeks after Tony came to live with the family, she had an inkling of what he had been through. 

"'I was changing the bed with the kids and the phone rang,' she said, 'I told them all to wait a minute in the hall, and I went to talk, and when I finally got back, about an hour later, the other two were long gone, but Tony was still standing there, alone, in the hall. That's when I knew that someone had abused that child. I got down on my knees and held him and cried, I never would let them test him after that.'

"The Williamses brought their children up as Catholics, and all attended parochial school. There never was any doubt that they would all go to college -- 'it was always when you finish college, never if,' she said -- and they all did. Lewis is a graduate of MIT and a professor of economics at the University of California at Redlands. Tony, the 'retarded' child, attended both Harvard and Yale and went on to acquire a reputation as a brilliant manager in several city governments, including Washington, D.C., where as chief financial officer he steered the city away from fiscal collapse. 

"Virginia, who throughout our interview answered her endlessly ringing telephone with a chirpy 'Tony Williams' mother,' readily admitted that her influence alone did not turn a mistreated orphan into one of the country's most prominent African-Americans. 'I had plenty of help,' she confided. Her own mother pitched in, as did her sister Myrtle, who had no children. 

"She was also blessed with a job that allowed her to take time off whenever she had to, even to travel on short singing engagements. And above all, she had a husband who worked nights and stayed home during the day, allowing him to be deeply involved with his family."



Ann Crittenden


The Price of Motherhood


Metropolitan Books


Copyright 2001 by Ann Crittenden


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