I first mentioned William Douthard in passing here. At the right is a flier from a civil rights rally I think my father organized, where William spoke (click on the image to enlarge).
William Douthard was a student demonstration leader in Birmingham, Alabama, which was where he and my father met. To many in the Movement, he was known as "Meatball." I always knew him as William.
I have strong memories of William because in 1978 he moved to Bethlehem, NY (a suburb south of Albany), where my family was living. He lived at our house for a while until his job started and he found his own place. One of my vivid memories of when he stayted with us was the time William took me to the Bethlehem Public Library and taught me how to do library research on the Fabian Society. (I believe the topic was suggested by my father, certainly not by my teachers). At one point, as William was guiding me through the process of putting my notes onto index cards, he suddenly stopped me and reprimanded me somewhat sternly for using a word in my notes that I didn't know the meaning of. He insisted I go over to the dictionary and find out the definition before I continued with anything else. At home, it was common to find William and Dad sitting at our kitchen table and playing pinochle for hours on end. I don't remember ever hearing them reminisce about working together in Alabama. Not needing to talk about it may have been the point: they had a strong mutual understanding, and that was probably comforting.
William moved into a condominium on one of the northernmost edges of Slingerlands, the next hamlet over from us in the same town, nestled between the borders of Albany and Guilderland. He married his second wife within the first year or so of being there, and she and her son Kip, a few years older than I, moved in. The condo was on a hill, overlooking the the Normanskill Creek, which forms the northern border of the town of Bethlehem. William had sliding glass doors that opened out onto a concrete patio on the crest of the hill. I remember a barbecue out there, probably the summer of 1979. Kip took me down the hill, over to the other side of Blessing Road, where you can walk down a steep slope, under the spot where Blessing Road runs into Rt. 85. Kip showed me where you can get onto the cross beams underneath the bridge that carries Rt. 85 over the Kill. I was too scared to come out as far as he did on the steel beams, with the cars making the whole structure tremble as they passed. Later on indoors, I wandered into William and Kim's room. On the wall, above the bed, was a poster size head shot of William. Over the poster was a clear, plastic sheet, with red concentric circles, making a bulls eye over William's animated face, and with several darts stuck through, into the wall.
We saw a lot of William until 1981, when he died very young, just shy of his 34th birthday. I don't remember what put him in the hospital (I was 11 at the time), but he developed a blood clot, which was the cause of death.
In the early 1960s in his home town of Birmingham, Alabama he was a leader of the Alabama Student Movement for Human Rights . . . He joined the field staff of the SCLC in 1961 and worked in various campaigns until 1964 when he joined the staff of CORE. Late in 1964 he moved to NYC and worked for the International Ladies Garment Workers Union in the Political Education Department. From 1968-1978 William worked with several agencies dealing with the problems of urban youth in NYC, including the Addiction Service Agency and The Family Youth Center in Brooklyn which was unique in its efforts as a community based program.William was involved in the peace movement as well. He sat on the executive committee of the War Resistors League and served on the Board of Directors of WIN, a publication of the peace movement. He also served on the board of the AJ Muste Memorial Institute.
In 1978 William came to Albany to join the affirmative action staff of the Department of Taxation and Finance, serving as Supervisor of Affirmative Action Plan and Program. His remarkable leadership talents were recognized; and after a short term as Director of Affirmative Action at the Office of Mental Retardation, he was appointed Assistant Commissioner for Affirmative Action in the Department of Corrections where he was serving at the time of his death.
(from the program booklet of William Douthard's Eulogistic Service, held at the Bethel Baptist Church, Birmingham, Alabama, Saturday, January 10, 1981)
When William first moved to New York City, he lived with my parents then, too, in their co-op apartment on the Lower East Side. William's job at the the NYS Tax Department was through my father, who was Secretary to the Tax Commission. William's first job in NYC, with the ILGWU, was probably also through my father, since the ILGWU was headed by David Dubinsky, and my father worked closely with Dubinsky at the Liberal Party of NY. William also moved quickly into Liberal Party circles, as is evidenced in the February/March edition of the Liberal News, from which I will be posting excerpts soon.
The War Resisters League established a fund in William's memory after he died. While he was alive, William used to send us WRL Peace Desk Calendars each year. We continued buying the calendars for a number of years after he died.