The Franklin Williams Award — Where It Began
by John Coyne (Ethiopia 1962–64)
In 1961, Franklin Williams began to work at Peace Corps HQ as Chief of the Division of Private Organizations, working with CARE, the Experiment in International Living, YMCA, etc. A lawyer and a leader in civil rights cases, he was a friend of Harris Wofford who interested Williams in working for the federal government at the new agency.
Years later, when I was managing the Peace Corps Recruitment Office in New York, the recruiters came up with the suggestion that we should ‘honor’ an African American RPCV who was helping us in the city to recruit ethnically diverse PCVs.
I thought it would be great to give a special presentation, and name it after an early African American staffer — Franklin H. Williams — who had recently passed away.
I spoke to Chuck Baquet, also an African American, a Somalia RPCV (1964-66), and a former Ambassador, who was then the Acting Head of the Peace Corps. Chuck and I had worked together years before at VISTA (AmeriCorps VISTA – Volunteers In Service To America).
Chuck agreed about giving the award to honor ethnically diverse RPCVs, and he came up to New York City to present the first Franklin H. Williams Award. He then institutionalized the award for the Peace Corps. Since we created the award in New York City, it has been presented nationally by the Peace Corps every year since 1999.
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It was my pleasure to work with Frank Williams in PC/Washington from April1, 1963 until May 1964 when I went to Ethiopia as an Associate Director. We had a reunion a few years later when he was a Woodrow Wilson Visiting Fellow going to liberal arts colleges around the US. I’m so glad an annual award is named after him.