SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV)— In one day, the United States lost two icons of the Civil Rights Movement—C.T. Vivan and Congressman John Lewis.
Human rights activist Elisabeth Williams-Omilami is the daughter of civil rights leader and philanthropist Reverend Hosea Williams, who fought against social injustices alongside Martin Luther King Jr., Vivian, and Lewis.
She says it’s important to remember what these men risked their lives for as we move forward with this generation’s fight for racial equality.
She says it takes more than just a few weeks of protests. But instead, systemic change.
“Don’t be fooled by what you think a great overwhelming swell of support for people of color,” Williams-Omilami said. “Because one thing I think these men and women knew is that this is not a sprint. This is a marathon.”
Williams-Omilami is the CEO of Hosea Helps, which she expanded from her father’s initiative, Hosea Feed The Hungry.
Her organization works to meet the basic needs of the working poor and homeless through legal aid, career help, school supplies, and other necessary programs that help close the gap of economic inequality.
Williams-Omilami was raised fighting for equality in the Civil Rights Movement of the ‘50s, ‘60s, and ‘70s.
“Civil rights was always a part of the lifestyle,” she said. “Marching for this or that, every waking moment there was some movement going on somewhere.”
She lived in Savannah from 1951 to 1963, until she reached high school. Then, she was sent to integrate an all-white high school in Utah.
“Savannah was where I first saw racism,” she said.
Her father started peaceful marches in Savannah. Martin Luther King Jr. recruited Williams to continue his work in Atlanta in 1965.
“They’d go into a town that had not had any civil rights reform and sit at the counter, or picket,” she said. “And they would get attacked. Then, Martin Luther King would send in people like Andrew Young and other smooth-talking people to do the negotiating. Well, that was his job.”
Williams-Omilami says civil rights figures like Vivian and Lewis will forever be remembered for their culture-changing work, and this next generation has a lot to learn from their approach.
“The most important thing that we can learn from watching the civil rights movement is that it really is about the content of your character. We have to be positive. But they do need to be asking themselves, ‘Where am I going to volunteer? Which cause is my cause?’”