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, who changed his name to James Williams, Sr., 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, born in Ohio to a mother 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, 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 time tenure 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 fulltext as a .pdf at the Western Michigan University website].

**The mother of Robert Jones Willis was an escaped 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, 5/25/1929, p. 6.

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NKAA Source: The Afro-American (newspaper)

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“Johnson, Beverly [James Williams, Sr.],” Notable Kentucky African Americans Database, accessed July 18, 2024,

Last modified: 2021-01-04 21:36:20