Mr. Abraham Morris Williams was the first African-American
admitted to the Sangamon County Bar. Williams was originally
from Virginia and began his Illinois life working as a cobbler.
Once Williams realized that a legal profession would provide
great opportunities for himself. Williams graduated from the
Hampton Institute and eventually passed the examination to be
admitted to the bar. Not only was Williams the first black
attorney in Sangamon County, but he also was one of the most
successful and recognized attorney in the area.
Williams, who paid very close attention to the details of his
clients, spent a lot of time reading many diverse books of law
as well as being fluent in several languages (specific languages
not mentioned). His qualities of being a strong orator and
pleader helped him build a large and beneficial practice for
people of all races.
Williams also dedicated a lot of his work and time to help the
oppressed people of Sangamon County. Williams was very prideful
that he broke several barriers and became the first black
attorney of Sangamon County.
Many building such as the Williams Building, the Brown Hotel,
and the Knights and Daughters of Honor Temple were named after
Williams for his great work. Williams’s law office was located
at 122 South 11th Street, in Springfield, Illinois.
Williams practiced law in Sangamon County for 29 years. He
studied law at Harlan Law School as well as the University of
Michigan. Williams was eventually admitted to the Sangamon
County Bar on October 2nd, 1907.
Williams was married to Miss Elizabeth Sampson in Hampton,
Virginia on September 2nd, 1899; they moved to
Illinois two years later in 1901. Williams passed away on April
17th, 1936 at 12:40pm at the residence of 1106 South
Walnut Street after battling a long illness.
He is buried
at Oak Ridge Cemetery Springfield, Illinois.
Abraham Morris Williams played an important and often
controversial role in Springfield’s black community for three
decades. A Virginia native, he and his wife Elizabeth moved to
Springfield in 1901. He worked as a cobbler while studying law –
first at a local law school he founded and then at the
University of Michigan – and was admitted to the bar in 1907.
In addition to his legal practice and a variety of
African-American organizations, Williams was active in politics
– originally as a Republican, but later as a Democrat – and real
estate development. The 1918 Centennial Cooperative special
section included a profile of Williams (which almost surely was
written by Williams himself) that outlined some of his
Among the early monuments to his success is the Masonic
temple, on North Eighth street. Soon afterwards he built a
$75,000 business block on East Washington street, then the
Brown Hotel block, and numerous residence properties. He
organized a law school, was the first to graduate and was
admitted to the bar in 1907. In 1908 he brought suit against
the City of Springfield in interest of colored people for
damages resulting from race riots and obtained judgments and
payments for all of them. He organized the first colored
bank and first colored insurance society in this city.
In addition to his large legal practice among white and
colored he has a valuable clientele among the Italians,
whose language he speaks and whose explicit confidence he
However, Williams’ dispute with Firman Brown over the hotel
construction was not an isolated incident. Williams also was
accused of financial improprieties in connection with the
Enterprise Bank, the “first colored bank” mentioned above, with
nonpayment of contractors’ bills in several building projects,
and with improper use of legal clients’ money.
He also bumped heads at times with other prominent
African-Americans, including lawyer Charles Gibbs and police
detective/developer Amos Duncan (although the same people also
worked together on other projects).