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Former Councilman’s Biography Highlights Pioneering Contributions To San Diego

Leon Williams is shown in his San Diego City Council office in 1969.

Photo by KPBS

Above: Leon Williams is shown in his San Diego City Council office in 1969.

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It's not hard to spot Leon Williams when he is walking around San Diego or his Golden Hill neighborhood. His signature fedora hat gives him away.

A new biography shares his pioneering political leadership as he offers strategies for anyone who wants to make a difference in public service.

Journalist Lynne Carrier, who first covered Williams in the late 1970s, wrote We Can Do More, The Leon Williams Story.

Williams was the first African American to serve on the City Council and the Board of Supervisors.

Photo credit: KPBS

Leon Williams on KPBS Evening Edition on Aug. 28, 2013.

He started representing the city’s 4th District in 1969.

"It was a very different time," Williams said. "Many didn't have much respect for African Americans.”

He said many in the African American and Hispanic communities didn't feel included.

"My point of view was to encourage people to accept their responsibility as citizens and to speak up for justice and fairness — for them to expect service and demand it from the city,” Williams said. “They deserved respect.”

At the beginning of his political career, Williams had a clear vision for how San Diego should be redeveloped. He wanted to empower residents in the 4th district, an area split by freeways and mixed with commercial real estate. While touring the district with KPBS reporter Peter Kaye in 1969, Williams pointed out one home directly next to a wrecking yard.

"How can a man improve his home when he lives next to a wrecking yard?" Williams asked during the interview.

At nearly 93, Williams said his motivation for getting his story on paper was to pass along his philosophy of working together.

"I thought what we did here in San Diego would help other people to solve problems with more feeling and more respect," Williams said.

He thinks respect is lacking on today’s political scene.

His advice to those who want to serve the public is simple: ”Be determined and don't give up if you don't get someone to agree with you, don't be negative, respect someones point of view and don't lose respect for other people.”

Williams attended San Diego State College where he received a BA in psychology in 1950. He also studied law and public policy.

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