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William J. Douthard (aka “Meatball”), Jan. 6, 1947 – Jan. 4, 1981

CoopvillagefreedomrallyI 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.

{ 11 comments… add one }

  • Barbara Reiner July 3, 2005, 9:13 am

    I was a “special” friend

    of William’s during the

    60’s. I have photos

    and a few tales of the

    past. I was also a member

    of CORE at the time. Perhaps

    you could email me.

  • Cyrille Doutherd August 24, 2005, 11:23 am

    Through oral history, the Douthard family of Alabama was related to me. I would appreciate a photo of William Douthard.

    Thank you,

    Cyrille Doutherd

  • Ben December 25, 2008, 8:23 pm

    Marcia, thank you for leaving this comment. Currently my work is more
    focused on unresolved racial violence from the 50s and 60s in
    Mississippi—but I am still working on my dad's story and am still very
    interested in William's story. I'll drop you a line over email.

  • Marcia Hamilton December 25, 2008, 9:14 pm

    Dear Ben…I don't know if you are still doing this.; I was glad to see your blog about William…who was my boyfriend off and on from 1968-1973…in NYC when he was James Farmer's campaign manager, in Jim's run against Shirley Chisholm. I was thinking about William, who really loved my baby (now 35 year old son) …and wondered what happened to his son!

  • WILLIAM J. DOUTHARD II December 29, 2009, 11:40 pm

    HI MY NAME WILLIAM J DOUTHARD II, THE 1ST TIME THIS WEB PAGE WAS BROUGHT TO MY ATTENTION WAS LAST YEAR BY MY FIANCE. I REMEBER VIVIDLY THE GOOD TIMES I HAD WITH MY DAD. I WISH TO THANK ALL THOSE WHO REMBER HIM N ESPECIALLY YOU FOR WRITING THIS. IT BRINGS BACK MEMORIES…..

  • WILLIAM J. DOUTHARD II December 30, 2009, 5:49 am

    HI MY NAME WILLIAM J DOUTHARD II, THE 1ST TIME THIS WEB PAGE WAS BROUGHT TO MY ATTENTION WAS LAST YEAR BY MY FIANCE. I REMEBER VIVIDLY THE GOOD TIMES I HAD WITH MY DAD. I WISH TO THANK ALL THOSE WHO REMBER HIM N ESPECIALLY YOU FOR WRITING THIS. IT BRINGS BACK MEMORIES…..

  • Ben December 30, 2009, 5:55 am

    William, it is wonderful to receive your comment! I hope we can meet sometime. I'm very pleased this writing has reached you.

  • LarryE January 20, 2010, 12:48 am

    I was drawn here by noticing the comment from William's son under “recent comments.”

    I knew William – in fact, it feels odd to call him William for reasons I will explain momentarily – a few years before you did. I was a fellow member of the Executive Committee of the War Resisters League and worked with him on the 1976 “Continental Walk for Disarmament and Social Justice.”

    We were acquaintances rather than friends; I suspect the fact that he was living in Bed-Stuy at the time and I was living on the Jersey shore 40 or 50 miles away had something to do with that. But we knew each other well enough to joke and tease (and occasionally scold) and commiserate about our various failed diets. I remember one time I asked him how his diet was going. He laughed and held up a cookie.

    It was true that people called him William rather than Bill – but it was also true that to each other we were always “Big Larry” and “Big Bill.” So to others he might be William or “Meatball” – but to me he would always be “Big Bill.” And I do remember him.

  • Ben January 20, 2010, 5:04 am

    Thanks for your comment, Larry! It means a lot to me and I'm sure it will mean a lot to William II. I'll send him a note to make sure he sees it.

  • Susan Pinto September 1, 2013, 1:11 pm

    Meatball was my best male friend from 1968 until his death—we lived in each other’s pockets, as they say.We worked with each other at asa nyc and he worked for me before I left to have my son, his godson, and he took over @ The Family.On a more personal level,we took our troop of kids everywhere, ate in and played endless card games in and slept over each others’ homes in bklyn for years.I am still in touch with other friends of his from Birmingham and having been thinking of him so much on this past 5oth anniversary wknd went on line to find jonathan and WOW!!! HIT THIS GOLDMINE–would love contact with jonathan, frances, vivian,and damon–have been thinking of you all for years. i had just started a note to my son in memory of his godfather when i stopped to look for jonathan again and found the goldmine.do get in touch with me ,it would make my old heart so happy.much love, susan

  • Benjamin T. Greenberg September 1, 2013, 10:55 pm

    Wow, so glad you found me, Susan. I’ll drop you a line!

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