ALGIERS, La. (WGNO) – Nearly 80 years after their loved one’s death and a seemingly botched investigation, an Algiers family is seeking justice while also attempting to heal.
The Williams family gathers at Beautiful Zion Baptist Church in Algiers where their father and grandfather, Edwin Williams, Sr., was once a deacon and studying to be a pastor.
On April 27, 1943, Edwin’s life was tragically cut short when his family says he was stabbed to death with a bayonet by three United States Navy sailors in front of his wife and two youngest children as they walked home from church.
“You know, you put something on me that I have to deal with,” said Pastor James Williams, the youngest son of Edwin Williams, Sr. “I had no say-so in it, but I’ve had to carry it all my life.”
Following Edwin’s killing, his wife, Lillian Williams, provided a statement to the then-president of the Louisiana State Conference of the NAACP, Daniel Byrd, who subsequently alerted former Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court Thurgood Marshall.
“Even though they killed her husband, and she had not four, but five boys to raise, she spearheaded, she took it on,” said James Williams, II, Edwin’s grandson, as he talked about his grandmother.
The family has received assistance from the Civil Rights Restorative Justice Project, and according to their records, only one of the perpetrators was charged. They say he was acquitted of manslaughter two months after Edwin’s death and was restationed.
“Have we been contacted by the U.S. Navy? No. Do I think it is important that they realize what happened and they own up to what happened? Yes,” said Rodrek Williams, Edwin’s grandson.
This past week, the New Orleans City Council adopted a resolution, formally apologizing for the “failed investigation and prosecution.”
“It’s trying to bring closure and fill a void that honestly will never be filled, but at least now, I have a better understanding of who [my grandfather] was, what he did, what he stood for,” said Derek Williams, another one of Edwin’s grandsons.
The Williams family is now asking for accountability on behalf of the Navy, as well as the state, and are seeking damages.
“So, the best we can hope for is some kind of relief, some kind of action on the part of the government to say okay, we realize he was a human being, we realize a mistake was made, and we take responsibility for it,” said Pastor Williams.
A memorial in Edwin’s honor will soon be placed at the intersection where he was killed, Pacific Avenue and Newton Street.