A Special Tribute to Lewis Williams
Dec. 26, 1958 - Jan. 14,
By Carl Hyde, Prisonersolidarity.org
Jan. 25, 2006
Though Lewis Williams Jr. is
no longer among us physically, his resistance against his execution
remains in the minds of members of the abolitionist movement in
Ohio and around the world.
Two years have passed since
his execution, yet two questions remain in the minds of many who
try to make sense of his demise: One, who was Lewis Williams Jr.?
Two, what was his departing message and legacy?
Since Lewis and I had a fairly extensive correspondence, I feel
that I knew him and may be able to answer these questions.
Lewis impressed me as a sincere,
intelligent, articulate and able individual. He used his extensive
knowledge of the law to help others on death row. He had much to
offer society. He offered much at the time of his death by resisting
the efforts of prison guards to execute him. This led prison authorities
to reconsider the unprecedented practice of allowing witnesses to
observe guards preparing a prisoner for lethal injection. Following
his resistance, the Ohio House passed a bipartisan bill calling
for a commission to study all capital cases. (The bill died in the
Senate but efforts continue.)
did Lewis achieve this legacy? When all legal efforts had failed
to secure a fair trial and preserve his life, he turned his undivided
attention to the One Who gave him life -- God. He pled for divine
intervention and struggled with his executioners as they tried to
lift his small frame onto a gurney and place shunts in his arms.
As he was being strapped to the gurney, he cried out at the top
of his lungs, "I'm not guilty. God, please help me! I didn't
commit these crimes!"
When asked by the warden if he had
anything to say before being put to death, he cried out, "God,
please help me! God, please hear my cry!"
His pleas shook the soul of his elderly
mother, who stood sobbing, observing through a glass window. In
addition, it shook the soul of his lawyer, reporters, executioners
and all who witnessed his demise.
It was quickly reported to us who
stood in the parking lot bearing witness to our opposition to state-sponsored
murder. His attorney, Stephen Ferrell, excited the prison and spoke
to us in the vigil, thanking us for being there. He was in tears.
He said, "Not only was it horrible, but I can't help but feel
an accomplice because there was nothing I could do to stop it."
As a Quaker and an advocate of nonviolence,
I had to do some thinking about Lewis' resistance. I concluded that
it was a good thing for him to have done. Mahatma Gandhi once said,
"Nonviolent resistance to evil is best, but any resistance
is better than none."
Welsh poet Dylan Marlais Thomas (1914-53)
Do not go gentle into that good
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Lewis Williams did not go gentle.
He resisted. Perhaps we should be proud of his resistance. I remember
the heroic rising of the Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto. It was hopeless
resistance against the Nazis, but we honor them because those victims
of the Nazi extermination policy fought back! So I am glad Lewis
resisted. We should honor his resistance. It got the attention of
international news media.
In spirit and in action, let us honor
his legacy and follow his lead by raging against the dying of the
In Lewis' memory,
151 West North College St.
Yellow Springs, OH 45387
A shorter version of this article appeared in the January 2006 issue
a newsletter to develop healing communication between capital punishment
offenders and murdered victims' families.