Reverend Cecil Williams

#blackhistoryProfilesFebruary 28, 2023

A leader in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, Reverend Cecil Williams was known for his inclusive approach and acceptance of all people.

Williams was one of the first and leading Black voices in the gay rights movement, which was reflected in the way he built and led the congregation of Gilde Memorial Church in San Francisco’s Tenderloin District for more than 50 years.

He grew the congregation to 10,000 parishioners who served more than 3,000 meals a day to their community for years, making it one of the largest social service providers in the city.

The church also provided AIDS/HIV screenings and offered services for those experiencing mental health or substance abuse disorders, as well as support for community members who were unhoused.

Not only did Williams offer safe haven to the area’s LGBTQ community at Gilde, he used his platform to elevate social justice in many ways. He was a vocal opponent of the de facto segregation of San Francisco Public Schools and hosted events for the Black Panther Party and Angela Davis.

Williams also created the community group called Citizens Alert, which investigated alleged police brutality and intimidation against both the BIPOC and LGBTQ communities.

From 1964 to his retirement in 2000, Williams infused a deep sense of care and love for his community in everything he did at Gilde Memorial Church. His work set a strong foundation for community building that is still a bedrock of the area today.

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