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Home >> Special Collections & University Archives >> Online Materials >> Oral Histories >> Creating Community Oral Histories >> Creating Community Oral Histories

Leon WilliamsLeon Williams

Leon Williams was born in Oklahoma, but moved to Bakersfield, California during the Great Depression. He received a B.A. in psychology from San Diego State College in 1950. He also studied law and public policy.

After graduating, Williams worked as a social worker in the San Diego Sheriff's Department. Later, he worked for the Urban League, and became the Director for the Neighborhood Youth Corps program. Williams was also active on the Citizens Interracial Committee (CIC).

In 1969, Williams became the first African American elected to the San Diego City Council as a representative for District IV. He later became County Supervisor in 1982. During Williams' years in the City Council, he helped initiate the Southeast Economic Development Corporation (SEDC), which promoted land use programs in order to revitalize and sustain Southeast San Diego. He similarly endorsed the downtown redevelopment project.

In addition to (re)development projects, Williams' Prevention Policy sought to create long-term solutions for issues such as crime, drugs, welfare, and health concerns. He was a proponent of needle exchange programs to help fight against AIDS, and was a major supporter of the anti-smoking ordinance. During this time, Williams also taught public policy classes part-time at San Diego State University.

Williams was extremely active with the Metropolitan Transit Development Board (MTDB). In 1976, he began his long tenure with the MTDB, and in 1994 was appointed Chairman of the Transit System's Board of Directors. He believed the San Diego Trolley was a means to connect and revitalize San Diego's older neighborhoods, rather than expand into undeveloped areas.

He retired from City Council in 1995, and the MTDB in 2005.

Oral History


Download the PDF transcript.

Leon Williams' oral history documents his early life, his career in public administration, and the African American experience in San Diego starting in the 1940s. This oral history has been divided into two parts. In Part 1, Williams focuses on his early life, his years at San Diego State College, and his time as a city councilman for District IV. He discusses his education at San Diego State College, and how, at the time, African American students were on the fringe of campus life. Of particular interest are Williams' remembrances of his participation in several sit-ins at "White Only" restaurants just before the national Civil Rights Movement. Williams also details his time on the San Diego City Council, specifically reflecting on his desire to give minorities a voice in government, and to redevelop Southeast San Diego and downtown. In Part 2, Williams briefly discusses his tenure on the Board of Supervisors, but mostly focuses on the Metropolitan Transit Development Board (MTDB) and the San Diego Trolley. He details the establishment and the expansion of the San Diego Trolley, giving special note to the trolley stop at SDSU.

Interview digitally recorded on October 28, 2008 by Gloria Rhodes.

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