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This month’s Fort Valley State University Alumni Spotlight is featuring an alumna who has taken the helm of a major Peach County town. The City of Fort Valley recently elected Barbara B. Williams, a 1971 FVSU alum, as its new mayor. She is the first African-American female mayor of the city.
“I was overjoyed that people had faith in me to elect me,” said Williams. “I am thankful for the opportunity to serve my community.”
Williams’ childhood and matriculation at FVSU
A native of Roberta, Georgia, Williams is the youngest child of the late Charlie and Willie Etta Braswell. Williams was raised by Ellen and Isaac Reeves, her older sister and brother-in-law, after her mother died two days after giving birth to her. The couple raised her in the Olive Grove Church community
Williams attended Crawford County Public Schools, where she excelled academically and graduated salutatorian of her high school class. Her scholastic achievements earned her high recognition and several scholarships, including one for music to attend FVSU. On campus, Williams began learning several different instruments, including the viola.
On campus, the FVSU student met Jimmy L. Williams, whom she married during her sophomore year. Fourteen months later, the city’s future mayor gave birth to her first child, Vernon.
Despite facing financial challenges due to their growing family, she excelled on campus and remained active as a musician, all while holding down a part-time job. She participated in several marching and concert bands, orchestra, concert choir, and an opera workshop.
In 1971, Williams graduated from FVSU with her bachelor’s degree in music education.
“Graduating from an HBCU, at that time, the instructors and staff have worked hard to develop those goals with you,” said Williams.
After college, Williams continued working with her first passion: music. She was hired by Dooly County High School, becoming the state of Georgia’s first black female band director. She also continued to grow her family, adding second child, Jamie, and a third child, Todd, who was adopted.
Williams becomes the first female band director
Williams earned her master’s degree in education at Georgia Southern College. She remained Dooly County’s band director for 18 years, growing the marching band from 60 members to 105. She also helped mentor students who became band directors themselves.
Williams’ move to Fort Valley resulted from her husband accepting a call to become the pastor of the Central Union Missionary Baptist. A few years later, he was offered the position of assistant Superintendent.
The educator taught herself how to play multiple instruments including woodwinds (flute and clarinet), brass (trumpet and trombone), strings and percussion, with the purpose of helping her students master their musical talents. Eventually, the FVSU alum was offered a position at Fort Valley Middle School as a band director, eventually earning an education specialist degree in music.
Williams enters the political arena
In 1994, Williams’ husband ran for office of mayor, and was elected. Two years into his term, he died in 1996.
“After I retired, I became interested in becoming part of the city council to fulfill some of the goals he had,” said Williams, who ended up serving nearly 16 years. Williams served as Mayor Pro-Tem under the previous mayor, John E. Stumbo, and on the Personnel Committee during her first term in office. She also served as the Chair of the Fire Committee, Public Works Committee and the Board of Directors for the Fort Valley’s Downtown Development Authority/Main Street. Additionally, she serves on the board of directors for the Loving Heart Learning Center and the Christian Education Council of the Central Union Baptist Church.
“I became hooked [on politics].” The new mayor believed she could help improve the city, and make it better. After campaigning, she was elected mayor in November 2013.
Currently, the mayor has several goals that she wants to accomplish while in office.
“I want to develop the community pride of people within Fort Valley,” she said. “I want to demolish the eyesores that are owned by absentee landlords who have properties just sitting vacant. I also want to develop a better partnership between the university and the city, by improving educational housing for students and the economic situation.”
The mayor’s advice for students seeking to enter the political arena is to volunteer with their local city and get involved in the community.
“The community is always in need of volunteers for various aspects. My advice is to get involved and attend several city council and organizational meetings.”
“I have known the mayor for well over 12 years, since I’ve been a pastor,” Rev. K. Daniel Dawsey, pastor of Central Union Baptist Church said. “Mayor Williams has been a faithful member of our church. She has worked with the music ministry and media ministries and is a strong supporter of Central Union Baptist Church. I’ve seen her dealings with city council. She is honest, hard working and has a lot of integrity, and works well with other people. I’m really excited about the possibilities that she will bring to the Office of the Mayor. I think she’ll do a good job.”
Christina D. Milton,writer/Social Media Specialist
Fort Valley State University
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