David Rhys Williams

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Three generations of ministers: David Rhys Williams (right) with his father (center) and son, George Hunston Williams (left)

Williams, David Rhys (1890 - 28 March 1970)

Williams, the son of Unitarian minister David Thomas Williams, was a Congregational as well as a Unitarian minister.

A University of Rochester website describes a special collection of his materials, the contents of which give a picture of his wide interests:

Title: DAVID RHYS WILLIAMS PAPERS
Date range: 1912 - 1970
Location: A.W695
Size: 47 Hollinger boxes, 36 transfer boxes, 4 packages
The papers of David Rhys Williams (1890-1970) contain correspondence, manuscript sermon notes, speeches, prayers, meditations and tributes, newspaper clippings, church bulletins, church membership and mailing lists, Forum material, church publications, articles by David Rhys Williams appearing in Journals such as The Christian Register, Unity, The Churchman, Advance, The Christian Leader, etc., printed and manuscript material on his three published books, a few books from his personal library and a composite list of books contained in his library (since dispersed), a few portraits, photographs and sketches, documents and memorabilia, a tape recording of his tribute to Albert Einstein and over fifteen hundred numbered sermons with cross references to other related sermons - all relating to his career as a Congregational and Unitarian Minister.
During his long and active ministry David Rhys Williams helped in the founding and administration of Forums in Cleveland and Chicago; he acted as Labor Arbitrator in wage disputes between International Structural Steel and Iron Workers Union and the Contractors Association of Cleveland, Ohio (1919); he was registered as a conscientious objector during the height of World War I patriotic fervour and never failed to support young men with similar views; in 1917 he made it publicly known that he supported the single tax, internationalism, birth control, woman suffrage and socialism; during the 1920's and 30's he was a member of the League for Industrial Democracy and was on the Planning Committee of the local Rochester branch in 1936; perhaps influenced by the work of his brother, Albert Rhys Williams [[1]], he continually supported Soviet-American co-operation and in 1929 and 1931 led parties for the "Open Road to Russia". As early as the 1930's he was speaking on racial toleration and it was early in this decade that he began his ardent support of planned parenthood: he delivered a sermon on "Voluntary Motherhood" which led to the establishment of a birth control clinic in Gannett House where it operated from 1934 until 1937 when it had to move to larger quarters; he was a member of the National Clergyman's Advisory Council of Planned Parenthood Federation of America and had Margaret Sanger in his pulpit just a few weeks after she was arrested; in 1934 he was on the Executive Committee of Monroe County Birth Control League. In 1933-34 he was Vice President of the Rochester Torch Club and in 1935-36 he became its President while in 1936-37 he served as President of the Unitarian Fellowship for Social Justice. During many phases of his career he was charged as being a communist: one such incident occurred in 1938 when he was so charged by the Rochester Social Justice Club for his opposition to the pro-racist and anti-Semitic sentiments of Father Charles Coughlin, but, ever faithful to his belief in free speech, David Rhys Williams defended Father Coughlin's right to say these things despite disagreeing with him. He was a member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (Rochester Branch) and early in the 1950's he opposed the Feinberg Law requiring loyalty oaths and investigations for school teachers and at the same time he also opposed the whole career of Senator Joseph McCarthy. In 1952 he was given the award as "Champion of the Oppressed" by the Unitarian Fellowship for Social Justice, among those individuals he supported were: Sacco and Vanzetti, Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, Tom Mooney (who had been convicted for bombing a 1916 San Francisco Preparedness Day march), Paul List (an ex-fighter in the Spanish Republican forces who would have been killed on deportation to his native Germany), Earl Broader (who received heavy sentences for passport violations), William J. Pomeroy (who sympathized with the Communist-linked Huk rebellion in the Philippines in the 1950's) and Mrs. Vashti McCollum (who won a landmark case in the Supreme Court about religious education in public schools).
Other causes he supported were: the Irish Republic, freedom for India, independence for the Philippines and a homeland for the Jews in Palestine; he signed the Humanist Manifesto, was a delegate to the World Parliament of Religions, constantly supported the American Civil Liberties Union and was chairman of the Rochester Committee to Aid Spanish Democracy. He was a sponsor of the Emergency Committee for Disaster Relief to Cuba, the Mental Hygiene Society of Monroe County, the Committee to Abolish the House Un-American Committee, the "Call" for the "Protestantism answers Hate" dinner-forum and avidly supported the claim for Susan B. Anthony to be placed in the Hall of Fame. He remained concerned with social causes and world affairs all his life, and even in 1968 had a major role in supporting the funding of a Black Affairs Council within the Unitarian Universalist Association. His enthusiasm and integrity never failed, nor did he ever hesitate to take the path of conscience and conviction.
Some of his correspondents were John Haynes Holmes, Frederick May Eliot, Steven Fritchman, Frank Gannett, the Beacon Press, Corlias Lamont, Kenneth B. Keating and Justin Wroe Nixon, and Philip S. Bernstein.
The David Rhys Williams papers were given in two parts to Rush Rhees Library, the University of Rochester. The numbered sermons were received from the Rev. Williams in October 1969 and most of the material in boxes 1-43a was received in March and April 1970 from his estate. The scrapbook in Package 4 which covers the years 1923-1936 was received in January 1971 from Dr. George H. Williams.

Publications

World Religions and the Hope for Peace. Boston, Beacon Press, 1951.

Faith Beyond Humanism. New York, Philosophical Library, [c. 1963].

Shakespeare, Thy name is Marlow. New York, Philosophical Library, [1966].

Articles in: Advance, The Christian Register, The Christian Leader, The Churchman, The Journal of Liberal Religion, The Pulpit, Unity

Theism

When Williams signed Humanist Manifesto I, he was leader of the First Unitarian Church in Rochester.

In correspondence with Raymond Bragg and Ed Wilson, however, he took exception to point three of the manifesto, which deals with body-soul dualism. Although he signed, he later renounced the humanist position, attacking its nontheism.

Nancy J. Salzer has described in detail his leaving the Third Unitarian Church of Chicago in 1928 and moving to Rochester [[2]]. Included are details of his attempt to prevent the selling of the old church building and, with the funds received, constructing a new building. The building, he lamented, had been where Frederick Douglass and Susan B. Anthony had spoken.

Final Years

In August of 1955, Williams suffered a heart attack and was hospitalized for a month, then spent the autumn recuperating. At Christmas, he was back in the Rochester pulpit and by February 1956 was preaching full-time. In 1958 he announced that he would retire 2 November 1958. It was 28 March 1970 that he died, at the age of 80. By this time he had moved away from a non-theistic humanism to an interest in parapsychology, and he believed in an afterlife.

His son, George Hunston Williams [[3]] is a church historian and a Unitarian.

{CL; EW; FUS; HM1; HNS}