By Deborah Willoughby
In late November 1955, the Rev. Donnie Williams had a dream of turtles with guns coming in from the west.
“I told my aunt, ‘That is a war, that is bloodshed.’ It meant suffering, that a fight was coming,” Williams recalled.
A few days later, after a visit to Lowndes County, Williams returned to Montgomery. His aunt, Magnolia Anderson, told him, “They put out pamphlets Saturday that no one’s to ride the bus. You remember that dream you had?”
He remembered the dream, and he was ready. That Monday night, he and his aunt attended the first mass meeting at Holt Street Baptist Church.
Williams, born March 10, 1932, has been preaching for 48 years. He’s a minister at Bell Resurrected Missionary Baptist Church and works at the Baptist Ministers Union on West Jeff Davis Street. The Bible informs his understanding of what happened during the Montgomery Bus Boycott.
“It was just like when God sent Moses down to Egypt to bring his people out of slavery. God hardened Pharaoh’s heart. Some people, even in slavery, became complacent,” he said. Cruelty from the Egyptian pharaoh gave even the most complacent Israelites the motivation to create change.
In Montgomery, decades of cruel treatment helped to prepare black residents to create change.
Williams remembers the injustice, including the treatment of blacks on the segregated city buses.
“This was so wrong. Sometimes it would just hurt you so bad,” he said. “God was getting us ready for moving out. Some people had become complacent with nothing.”
In those days, Williams was often called “Stringbean.” He worked at a Gulf service station for Jeff Powell, a white man who “treated me as if I were his son.” Williams’ job was not endangered by his participation in the bus boycott.
Williams drove his 1939 Dodge around town, giving rides to boycott participants. One day, he picked up a couple of people who were gathered behind the Montgomery Seed Co. building, just off Dexter Avenue. Right by the Capitol, he was pulled over and taken to jail on an unfounded accusation of hit-and-run driving.
“The people with me walked back down and told (the others) they had arrested Donnie Williams,” he said. That evening, the Revs. Martin Luther King Jr., Ralph Abernathy and another leader got him out of jail.
In court, Williams explained to the judge that he had earlier been in a minor collision with a young man he knew. They had gotten out of their cars and talked — there had been no hit-and-run. He was cleared.
“They were just writing and ticketing. Their concern was to make us look bad,” Williams said. “It was rough. They wrote us tickets, and (we) ain’t done nothing.”
The boycott participants were not swayed by police harassment.
“When your mind is made up and your heart is fixed, then your feet are ready for traveling. God fixed our hearts,” Williams said.
As for the people who tried to keep black people down, he recalled the words of Jesus: “Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do.”
“They didn’t understand. They did some things that were rather bad,” he said. “I don’t hate nobody. Some people treated me so wrong, but I didn’t hate them. No, no, uh-uh. God knows when to bring you forward. It was the time. Out of suffering, trials and tribulations, comes a blessing.”