From NKAA, Notable Kentucky African Americans Database (main entry)

Johnson, Beverly [James Williams, Sr.]

(born: 1840) 

In 1858, Beverly Johnson escaped from slavery in Kentucky and made his way north to York, MI. Johnson changed his name to James Williams, Sr. and he was a cigar maker; he is listed in the 1860 census. He later established a cigar factory in Saline, MI, and became a farmer. He was the husband of Mary Williams who was born in Ohio, and her mother was from Kentucky [source: 1880 U.S. Federal Census]. The couple had three sons, James Jr., Henry, and Charles. James Williams, Sr. was a widower in 1900, according the census. This was about the same time that his son Charles E. Williams graduated from the University of Michigan Law School and started practicing law in Detroit with Michigan's renowned Negro lawyer, **Robert J. Willis. Under the new civil service law, Charles Williams was appointed a life tenure of office as a general clerk in the Detroit Assessor's Office. For more see "Charles E. Williams" in the Michigan Manual of Freedmen's Progress, compiled by F. H. Warren [available full text online as a .pdf at the Western Michigan University website].

**The mother of Robert Jones Willis was an escape slave from Kentucky, for more see "Michigan gives lawyer a birthday" in Day by Day column by Wm. N. Jones in the Baltimore Afro-American, 05/25/1929, p.6.


Cited in this Entry

NKAA Source: The Afro-American (newspaper)

Cite This NKAA Entry:

“Johnson, Beverly [James Williams, Sr.],” Notable Kentucky African Americans Database, accessed November 23, 2020,

Last modified: 2019-01-23 18:58:09