CELEBRATING

BLACK HISTORY MONTH

Jason H. Williams easily recalls the days of more than a half-century ago, and some of his experiences are no different than any other student.

 

He talks of part-time jobs, influential classes and camaraderie with teammates and coaches in the University of Maryland swimming program, where he was a springboard diver in the early-to-mid 1960s. He praises a skillset he procured that eventually led to him serving as the Director of Los Angeles County’s Department of Building Services and later as an administrator for Los Angeles County’s Department of Health Services.

 

There’s something else the man, who was raised in Baltimore, all-too-keenly remembers from his time as a student in College Park. Williams was the first African-American varsity athlete in Maryland history, and given both the times and geographical demands, he faced a startling introduction to the state of racial discrimination in the country early in his career.

 

It was during a trip to North Carolina that Williams was refused service at an off-campus restaurant. Maryland’s team departed without incident, but the experience was never to be forgotten.

 

“At the time, I was 18 years old and just a young man who had never really been outside of Baltimore until we took that trip down to North Carolina,” Williams said. “It was quite a shock. It instilled a lot of fear of what might possibly happen.”

“It didn’t seem like trailblazing.”

- Jason H. Williams

Friend Ursula and Jason at MU's Homecoming football game, October 1978

Williams as a member of the Vandenberg Guard of the Air Force ROTC.

Williams competed in  1- and 3-meter diving while at Maryland.

Captain Testas attaches 2nd Lt insignia to Williams's uniform at USAF Commissioning ceremonies in August 1966

Williams with his 5th grade teacher Mrs. Charlotte Watkins and fellow classmate Patricia Owens. He regularly kept in contact with this outstanding and inspirational educator for over 60 years until she died at age 97 in 2015.

Williams snaps a selfie with Maryland President Dr. Loh at the May 2016 Commencement Ceremonies.

Williams’ introduction to springboard diving wasn’t planned. He would often go to a pool in Clifton Park on the east side of Baltimore during the summer, and was intrigued when he saw some older guys diving.

 

By the time he was 12, he bought a book about diving that offered instruction on various positions and techniques. He proceeded to practice, and by the time he was a sophomore at Baltimore Polytechnic, he went out for the swimming team as a diver.

 

“I became the second-rated diver and then became the best on the team,” Williams said. “From going to the neighborhood pool, admiring the graceful dives by the older guys I saw and buying a book and applying myself, I found I had the skillset for diving on both 1 and 3-meter diving boards.”

 

So much so, that as a high school senior in 1962, he won the Baltimore City Diving Championship in springboard diving. That led to the opportunity to compete at the collegiate level at Maryland.

 

He initially planned to study engineering, but changed his major after a year to Advertising and Applied Design with a minor in business administration. Like many other students, Williams found a part-time job, in his case taking and developing pictures at an on-campus photo lab.

 

“I didn’t have a lot of the perks that other classmates had, like a car or motorcycle,” Williams said. “What I didn’t have never held me back. I found a way to have just as much fun and excitement and getting as much out of college as I could, not just the education but the total experience.”

 

All the while, he had no trouble with Swimming Coach Bill Campbell and teammates as he fit in with Maryland’s swimming and diving program.

Bill Campbell was the head varsity swimming coach from 1955-1976 and and esteemed educator at the University of Maryland

 

Campbell launched the Terps’ swim program in 1956 and quickly led Maryland to three consecutive ACC championships in 1960, 1961, and 1962. He is the winningest coach in the history of Maryland swimming and diving program, garnering a winning percentage of 80 percent during his tenure.

 

Campbell’s tenure as Maryland varsity swimming coach lasted two decades, before he retired in 1976. He was named Coach Emeritus upon his retirement from coaching, an honorary title given to those who retire but retain their position.

 

Campbell was a collegiate diving champion during his younger years, and later captured a national championship at the Senior Games as a Masters swimmer. He was also a member of the U.S. Olympic Diving Committee and a long time referee for the ACC Swimming and Diving Championships.

 

In 1982, working in conjunction with then-Athletic Director Dick Dull, Campbell helped establish the University of Maryland Athletic Hall of Fame.  He was later inducted into the University of Maryland Athletics Hall of Fame in 1989. Campbell was also inducted into the Springfield College and Pennsylvania State Hall of Fames.

 

Campbell passed away peacefully on April 19, 2014 at the age of 90.

Right to left: Jason, his mother Mary, sister Barbara and brother Floyd. He was only the second of seven siblings to graduate college.

In 1978, Williams relives exciting moments in Cole Field House's swimming pool, as a springboard diver on the Terrapin's Swimming team from 1962-1966.

“What I didn’t have never held me back. I found a way to have just as much fun and excitement and getting as much out of college as I could, not just the education but the total experience.”

- Jason H. Williams

“They all liked me and accepted me because of the talents and contributions I made toward the team’s efforts to win a championship, and that was our goal --- to win the championship of the Atlantic Coast Conference,” Williams said.

 

While acceptance on the team was significant, Williams was still a rarity in that era. He recalls receiving warm responses from fans at the University of North Carolina and N.C. State for his diving performances, but also knows he drew attention from almost entirely white audiences for non-competitive reasons when Maryland was on the road.

 

“At every venue, I was usually the only black individual, so I stood out,” Williams said. “Oftentimes, people believed what they had heard that blacks could not swim. Certainly it was beyond them that I was a diver. How dare I be able to dive when most of them thought most blacks could run fast but could not swim, for crying out loud --- which didn’t make any sense.”

 

It was after a meet at North Carolina that Williams encountered something far worse than mere ignorance. He remembers being treated with respect while on campus by students and fellow competitors, but afterward the team went to an off-campus restaurant for dinner.

 

There, waiters denied Williams service because of the color of skin. At that point, Maryland’s entire team canceled its meal orders and departed the restaurant immediately, eventually settling on fast food takeout that night.

 

 

“Here we are, eight years later in 1962, the aftermath of the demonstrations, the beatings, the sit-ins at lunch counters,” Williams said. “All of that made me extremely fearful because none us --- the coaches, the team --- knew what to expect from that run-in at that restaurant and whether things would blossom into violence.

 

If that was as frightening a moment as Williams experienced in college, he was also witness to a better sort of history. In 1966, he and some teammates worked concessions during the Final Four at Cole Field House.

 

 

“It was pretty exciting at the time, but when you place it in a historical perspective, that an all-black team basically beat this all-white team and Kentucky was at No. 1 in the nation and expected to run away with the championship,” Williams said. “Of course, Texas Western won. Adolph Rupp was the coach at Kentucky and he was blown away in his embarrassment. Having access to that and being there meant a lot.”

Jason and his brother Ralph, who was such an outstanding role model, as college graduate from Morgan State University and MBA recipient from Pepperdine University.

In 1975, Jason is flanked by his friend Brenda and boss, Mr W. D. Prater, at the latter's 40 years of service retirement attended by over 1,000 friends, family and staff. Because of Prater's mentoring, Jason followed in his footsteps to become at 35, the youngest department head in LA County history.

Williams at a summer 2016 MU Alumni event in San Diego. Left to right: volleyball coach Steve Aird, director of athletics Kevin Anderson (whose insight spawned this story), former men's basketball coach Gary Williams, Jason H. Williams, women's golf coach Diana Cantu, men's soccer coach Sasho Cirovski and football coach DJ Durkin.

Williams with fellow 1966 classmates at Maryland's Commencement Ceremonies in May 2016.

After a nearly three-decade stint with Los Angeles County government and a second career as a financial advisor, Williams is retired and splits time between homes in Los Angeles, Las Vegas and travel.

 

He looks back fondly on his time at Maryland and what he learned as an undergraduate. But his experiences also are instructive in assessing the nation’s social progress --- and how much is still to come. Williams especially points to resistance and resentment during the tenure of former President Barack Obama that he believes was racially motivated as evidence that more change is still needed.

 

“Although in some respects it seems we have come a long way, in other respects we haven’t come very far at all,” Williams said.

 

For his part, Williams credits much of his success in life to family, friends, colleagues and mentors who helped along the way. Foremost among them were his mother, Mary, older brother Ralph and former boss and mentor, W. D. Prater. That he was the first of countless African-Americans to represent Maryland’s athletic department is merely part of his fulfilling journey. He feels that his successes opened the door for others of color who followed. He said that he is “extremely proud of his education at Maryland, most notably his Air Force ROTC training in leadership and management --- skills which served him well throughout his career.”

 

“I didn’t feel like I was a trailblazer then because things just happen,” Williams said. “Being a youngster, you just take it a day at a time. It didn’t seem like trailblazing. In retrospect, when I look at the story --- beginning, middle and now toward the end --- I feel extremely fortunate in so many ways for my experiences at the University of Maryland.”

Williams at the Riggs Alumni Center for Maryland's 2016 Spring Commencement and celebration of his graduating class's 50th Anniversary. Over his right shoulder is a photo of Jason at age 18 when a member of the Terrapins' swimming team.

Jason H. Williams easily recalls the days of more than a half-century ago, and some of his experiences are no different than any other student.

 

He talks of part-time jobs, influential classes and camaraderie with teammates and coaches in the University of Maryland swimming program, where he was a springboard diver in the early-to-mid 1960s. He praises a skillset he procured that eventually led to him serving as the Director of Los Angeles County’s Department of Building Services and later as an administrator for Los Angeles County’s Department of Health Services.

 

There’s something else the man, who was raised in Baltimore, all-too-keenly remembers from his time as a student in College Park. Williams was the first African-American varsity athlete in Maryland history, and given both the times and geographical demands, he faced a startling introduction to the state of racial discrimination in the country early in his career.

 

It was during a trip to North Carolina that Williams was refused service at an off-campus restaurant. Maryland’s team departed without incident, but the experience was never to be forgotten.

 

“At the time, I was 18 years old and just a young man who had never really been outside of Baltimore until we took that trip down to North Carolina,” Williams said. “It was quite a shock. It instilled a lot of fear of what might possibly happen.”

Williams’ introduction to springboard diving wasn’t planned. He would often go to a pool in Clifton Park on the east side of Baltimore during the summer, and was intrigued when he saw some older guys diving.

 

By the time he was 12, he bought a book about diving that offered instruction on various positions and techniques. He proceeded to practice, and by the time he was a sophomore at Baltimore Polytechnic, he went out for the swimming team as a diver.

 

“I became the second-rated diver and then became the best on the team,” Williams said. “From going to the neighborhood pool, admiring the graceful dives by the older guys I saw and buying a book and applying myself, I found I had the skillset for diving on both 1 and 3-meter diving boards.”

 

So much so, that as a high school senior in 1962, he won the Baltimore City Diving Championship in springboard diving. That led to the opportunity to compete at the collegiate level at Maryland.

 

He initially planned to study engineering, but changed his major after a year to Advertising and Applied Design with a minor in business administration. Like many other students, Williams found a part-time job, in his case taking and developing pictures at an on-campus photo lab.

 

“I didn’t have a lot of the perks that other classmates had, like a car or motorcycle,” Williams said. “What I didn’t have never held me back. I found a way to have just as much fun and excitement and getting as much out of college as I could, not just the education but the total experience.”

 

All the while, he had no trouble with Swimming Coach Bill Campbell and teammates as he fit in with Maryland’s swimming and diving program.

“They all liked me and accepted me because of the talents and contributions I made toward the team’s efforts to win a championship, and that was our goal --- to win the championship of the Atlantic Coast Conference,” Williams said.

 

While acceptance on the team was significant, Williams was still a rarity in that era. He recalls receiving warm responses from fans at the University of North Carolina and N.C. State for his diving performances, but also knows he drew attention from almost entirely white audiences for non-competitive reasons when Maryland was on the road.

 

“At every venue, I was usually the only black individual, so I stood out,” Williams said. “Oftentimes, people believed what they had heard that blacks could not swim. Certainly it was beyond them that I was a diver. How dare I be able to dive when most of them thought most blacks could run fast but could not swim, for crying out loud --- which didn’t make any sense.”

 

It was after a meet at North Carolina that Williams encountered something far worse than mere ignorance. He remembers being treated with respect while on campus by students and fellow competitors, but afterward the team went to an off-campus restaurant for dinner.

 

There, waiters denied Williams service because of the color of skin. At that point, Maryland’s entire team canceled its meal orders and departed the restaurant immediately, eventually settling on fast food takeout that night.

 

 

“Here we are, eight years later in 1962, the aftermath of the demonstrations, the beatings, the sit-ins at lunch counters,” Williams said. “All of that made me extremely fearful because none us --- the coaches, the team --- knew what to expect from that run-in at that restaurant and whether things would blossom into violence.

 

If that was as frightening a moment as Williams experienced in college, he was also witness to a better sort of history. In 1966, he and some teammates worked concessions during the Final Four at Cole Field House.

 

 

“It was pretty exciting at the time, but when you place it in a historical perspective, that an all-black team basically beat this all-white team and Kentucky was at No. 1 in the nation and expected to run away with the championship,” Williams said. “Of course, Texas Western won. Adolph Rupp was the coach at Kentucky and he was blown away in his embarrassment. Having access to that and being there meant a lot.”

After a nearly three-decade stint with Los Angeles County government and a second career as a financial advisor, Williams is retired and splits time between homes in Los Angeles, Las Vegas and travel.

 

He looks back fondly on his time at Maryland and what he learned as an undergraduate. But his experiences also are instructive in assessing the nation’s social progress --- and how much is still to come. Williams especially points to resistance and resentment during the tenure of former President Barack Obama that he believes was racially motivated as evidence that more change is still needed.

 

“Although in some respects it seems we have come a long way, in other respects we haven’t come very far at all,” Williams said.

 

For his part, Williams credits much of his success in life to family, friends, colleagues and mentors who helped along the way. Foremost among them were his mother, Mary, older brother Ralph and former boss and mentor, W. D. Prater. That he was the first of countless African-Americans to represent Maryland’s athletic department is merely part of his fulfilling journey. He feels that his successes opened the door for others of color who followed. He said that he is “extremely proud of his education at Maryland, most notably his Air Force ROTC training in leadership and management --- skills which served him well throughout his career.”

 

“I didn’t feel like I was a trailblazer then because things just happen,” Williams said. “Being a youngster, you just take it a day at a time. It didn’t seem like trailblazing. In retrospect, when I look at the story --- beginning, middle and now toward the end --- I feel extremely fortunate in so many ways for my experiences at the University of Maryland.”