Oxford AASC: Williams, Clarence J., III

Williams, Clarence J., III

By: Jeff Berg
 African American National Biography What is This?

Williams, Clarence J., III

(22 Jan. 1967– ),
photojournalist and

was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to Clarence J. Williams, Jr. and Ruth Watson Williams, a former Women’s Army Corps member and claims administrator at the Philadelphia Veterans Administration. Williams attended a small Quaker school called the Friends Select School in Philadelphia through the twelfth grade. He attended several universities, including the University of Southern California (USC) and Morgan State University in Baltimore, Maryland, and then took several years off from school. In 1992 he graduated from Temple University in Philadelphia with a Bachelor’s Degree is Mass Communications. While attending Temple Williams worked for the school’s newspaper, The Temple News, for two years and also maintained an internship and did freelance work for The Philadelphia Tribune, the oldest continually published African American newspaper in the United States.

Upon graduating Williams secured an internship with the York Daily Record located in York, Pennsylvania. His first regular newspaper job was with Times Community Newspapers, a group of weeklies based in Reston, Virginia. In 1994 he won a slot with the Times-Mirror Company’s METPRO training program, a two-year instruction program geared toward minority recruitment that offers opportunities in reporting and copy editing. After completion of METPRO he was offered a position at the group’s flagship newspaper, the Los Angeles Times as a photographer. In 1996 he was promoted to staff photographer, a position he held until his departure from the Times in 2003 to pursue personal work. During his employment with the Times, Williams covered several war-torn areas including Hebron on the West Bank and Angola. Williams has won numerous awards, including a 1998 Pulitzer Prize for Feature Photography for his work “Orphans of Addiction,” which photographed children who lived with parents who abused drugs and alcohol; Journalist of the Year from the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) in 1997; and a Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award, a “prize recognizing outstanding coverage of issues facing society's disadvantaged,” also for “Orphans of Addiction,” which appeared in the Los Angeles Times in November 1997.

Other honors Williams has received include winning first place in the 1991 Pictures of the Year contest sponsored by the National Press Photographers Association (NPPA), and a Katrina Media Fellowship from the Open Society Institute in 2006. The latter award reflected his work inspired by Hurricane Katrina, which struck while Williams was visiting relatives to attend a funeral and a wedding in New Orleans in August 2005. The storm trapped Williams and family members in the attic of a home for three days. During that time and the aftermath of the storm, Williams began to keep a journal that documented the continuing neglect shown by government officials to storm victims, treatment which was enhanced by racism and issues of poverty. Williams moved to New Orleans from Los Angeles soon after the storm. His journal, along with some of his photographs of the victims and destruction from the storm, were featured in the Miami Herald. This journal was the first time that his writing had been featured as well as his photography, and he has received praise for his commentary on his photographic work. While in New Orleans Williams received a grant from the Open Society Institute (OSI), which enabled him to publish “a photographic essay of post-Katrina New Orleans, from flood to aftermath to rebuilding, with a visual emphasis on the remnants of the cultural wealth and family ties that make this city unique,” as noted on the OSI website.

Williams’s impetus to return to New Orleans was because he felt that the rebuilding of the city would not end with the usual recovery endeavors that took place after the storm. He strongly believed that the poor neighborhoods destroyed by the hurricane would be rebuilt in a way that would not benefit the residents who chose to remain in the city and that few black people would return to their original homes, allowing New Orleans to be rebuilt in a manner that would attract or benefit wealthier white people. This would also discourage tourism, since he felt that the city would lose much of its authenticity in coming years.

In 2006 Williams accepted a position at the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg as a distinguished visiting lecturer in photojournalism, and later became photojournalist in residence. Following his achievements, Temple University established the Clarence Williams Award which recognizes one student each year for outstanding photographic achievement.

Further Reading

  • Clarence Williams III.” Dart Center for Journalism & Trauma, Columbia Journalism School. https://dartcenter.org/bio/clarence-williams-iii.
  • “Clarence Williams of Los Angeles Times.” The Pulitzer Prizes.1998. https://www.pulitzer.org/winners/clarence-williams.
  • Fischer, Heinz-Dietrich, and Erika J. Fischer, eds. Complete Biographical Encyclopedia of Pulitzer Prize Winners 1917–2000 (2010).
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