For those even slightly familiar with Peace Corps history, you’ve almost definitely heard about Sargent Shriver, the first agency Director and the person credited right after President Kennedy with the agency’s founding.
Lesser known but equally due founding credit is Franklin H. Williams (above left, with Shriver), an African American civil rights lawyer, diplomat and foundation president who worked to improve interracial relations in the U.S. He joined Director Shriver as his Special Assistant in 1961 and later became the agency’s Africa Regional Director.
Williams’s career was illustrious before and after Peace Corps. He began his law career at the NAACP, first as assistant special counsel to Thurgood Marshall, where he argued cases before the Supreme Court, and later as the West Coast Regional Director. At the NAACP Williams conducted drives for legislation on minority employment and won the first judgment in a case involving school desegregation. As Assistant Attorney General in California, he created the state’s first Constitutional Rights Section within the Department of Justice. After serving on Peace Corps staff, Williams served as Ambassador to Ghana in the administration of President Johnson, and from 1970 to 1990 he served as the president of the Phelps-Stokes Fund, an organization established to enhance educational opportunities for Africans, African Americans and American Indians.