Focus Policy Blog


Eddie Williams Receives Joint Center Award Today

At a reception today, former president of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies Eddie N. Williams will receive the organization’s highest award—The Louis E. Martin Great American Award.

The award is named after Louis E. Martin (1912-1997), a principal founder of the Joint Center and the first chair of its Board.  Martin was a Chicago Defender journalist and black newspaper publisher, an advisor to three presidents, and was instrumental in the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.  Past recipients of the award include Cory Booker (2014), Susan Rice (2013), Kasim Reed (2012), John Lewis (2012), Jesse L. Jackson (2011), Sr., Dorothy Height (2010), James Clyburn (2009), Charles Rangel (2008), William Jefferson Clinton (2007), Muhammad Ali (2006), Vernon Jordan (2005), and Jimmy Carter (2004).

Eddie Williams served as President of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies from 1972-2004.

In 1972, while working as Vice President of Public Affairs at the University of Chicago, Mr. Williams was recruited to lead the Joint Center.  The organization had been founded just two years earlier to support the hundreds of new black elected officials who came into office in the aftermath of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Over the next three decades, Mr. Williams built the Joint Center into the core of black political thought and research.  He hosted black elected officials every four years to assemble policy priorities to share with presidential candidates and transition teams.  The Joint Center founded or co-founded the National Coalition of Black Voter Participation and several organizations of black elected officials, and built a Roster of over 10,000 Black Elected Officials.  Williams created Focus Magazine to tie together black elected officials, political activists, and scholars nationwide.

The Joint Center also became a full-fledged think tank.  It commissioned and published regular surveys of black Americans, and produced various studies, reports, books, and events.  Top scholars like John Hope Franklin, Mary Frances Berry, Kenneth Clark, David Garrow, Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, Ron Walters, and William Julius Wilson worked with the Joint Center.

Click here for a 10-minute video describing the Joint Center built by Mr. Williams and featuring interviews with him.

Mr. Williams received several honorary doctorates and other accolades, including the Congressional Black Caucus Adam Clayton Powell Award (1982), the MacArthur Foundation Fellowship (also known as the “Genius Grant”) (1988), the Washingtonian of the Year Award (1991), and the National Black Caucus of State Legislators Nation Builder Award (1992).

Eddie Williams built an institution that helped a generation of black leaders move from activism into governance, and that informed and inspired a generation of scholars committed to using ideas to change real lives.