Young America’s Foundation mourns the passing of Dr. Walter Williams, a dear friend and one of the country’s most articulate and staunchest defenders of individual liberty.
YAF President Ron Robinson stated, “We are grateful for the life and legacy of Dr. Walter Williams, who generously gave his time and wisdom to students to ensure freedom. Dr. Williams was a faithful successor to Adam Smith. He built on Smith’s scholarship and made it fresh for new audiences. YAF audiences were blessed to learn from Dr. Williams these past 50 years. His passing is a loss to everyone who cherishes individual freedom.”
Born in Philadelphia in 1936, Williams was drafted into the military and served in the U.S. Army in the late 1950s and early 60s, when he boldly challenged the discriminatory racial policies of Jim Crow. After his military service, he earned his bachelor’s degree in economics from California State University, Los Angeles, and master’s degree and PhD in economics from the University of California, Los Angeles. For four decades, Williams served as the John M. Olin Distinguished Professor of Economics at George Mason University.
A prolific scholar and public intellectual, he wrote numerous popular books, including The State Against Blacks and Race & Economics, arguing for greater individual freedom as a means to economics progress for African-Americans. His weekly column was carried by 140 newspapers and websites across the country, and his more than 150 academic publications appeared in the leading scholarly journals.
Williams made countless appearances on television and radio programs, including Milton Friedman’s Free to Choose series, Nightline, Nightly Business Report, and Face the Nation. He was also a guest host for the Rush Limbaugh Show.
For his defense of economic freedom and limited government, Williams received numerous awards throughout his career, including the Bradley Prize, presented by the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation at the Reagan Ranch Center in 2017.
Williams played an integral role in the success of Young America’s Foundation over the past five decades. When YAF asked for his help in reaching increasing numbers of young people with the principles of freedom, he always rose to the occasion. From speaking at the 1975 YAF Convention in Chicago to addressing college students at the Foundation’s annual National Conservative Student Conference in Washington, D.C.—as recently as 2019—to crisscrossing the country to deliver YAF-sponsored lectures to campus audiences, Williams was a tireless advocate of greater freedom for all.
When he was asked during a 2015 interview with YAF’s magazine, Libertas, what was important for young people to understand about economics and free enterprise, Williams responded in his characteristically clear and direct manner, “To give a dollar to an American, government must first take it from an American.” He added on the topic of government redistribution, “I believe that charity is one of the noblest instincts of human beings. To help your fellow man by reaching into your own pocket is laudable and praiseworthy. To help your fellow man by reaching into someone else’s pocket is worthy of condemnation.”
Young America’s Foundation’s students appreciated Williams because, at his core, he was a lifelong learner and educator. He particularly enjoyed participating in YAF programs because, as he said, “I like being around young people. It helps to keep me young, and I like the challenge of arguing and debating my ideas.”
Americans benefited greatly from Dr. Walter Williams’ knowledge and insights. The positive influence he had on thousands of young people nationwide will be felt for generations to come.
Rest in Peace, Dr. Walter Williams.