Women’s History Month – Sue Cowan Williams

Sue Cowan Williams was an educator who fought for fair treatment.

After being educated in Alabama and Illinois, she returned to Arkansas, and began her teaching career in 1935 at Dunbar High School in Little Rock.  In 1942, Williams became the plaintiff in a lawsuit aimed at equalizing the salaries of black and white teachers in the Little Rock School District. The NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund, including its director-counsel Thurgood Marshall, assisted in the case. The trial ended after a week with a verdict against Williams, and her teaching contract was not renewed for the 1942-43 school year. Other black educators left the school as a result of their involvement in the lawsuit.

In 1945, Williams successfully appealed the verdict to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeal in St. Louis, which ordered equal pay for black and white teachers in Little Rock. Dr. Christophe, the new principal of Dunbar High School, demanded Williams’s reinstatement in the fall of the same year, but it was not granted until 1952. In the intervening years, she taught classes at what is now UAPB and Arkansas Baptist College as well as at the Ordnance Plant in Jacksonville.  Upon returning to the LRSD, Williams taught at Dunbar until 1974, when she retired. She died in 1994.

The Central Arkansas Library Branch located in the Dunbar neighborhood was named for her when it opened in 1997.  She is honored with inclusion in the Arkansas Civil Rights Heritage Trail.