By Stanley H. Hyland
University of Memphis
By Linda A. Bennett
University of Memphis
By John van Willigen
University of Kentucky
Charles Williams’ anthropology career path began when Professor Demitri Shimkin recruited him as a promising young African-American scholar from Columbus, Mississippi, and a graduate of Rust College in Holly Springs, Mississippi, to enter the University of Illinois doctoral program in anthropology. Professor Shimkin had launched his applied anthropology research in Holmes County Mississippi in the 1970’s with a strong commitment to civil rights and to addressing health disparities. As a graduate student, Charles quickly became part of a research team that traveled back and forth from Urbana, Illinois, to Holmes County, Mississippi. Charles grounded the academic idealism of Shimkin, his medical colleagues, and other graduate students in the cultural, political and economic realities of the Mississippi Delta. Thus, he became an early shaper of an action anthropology approach in the region that would build a knowledge base for subsequent engagement over the next forty years.
In 1978 Charles was recruited to take a faculty position in the College of Education at the University of Memphis. He wrote his dissertation on Memphis African-American neighborhoods. Charles’ research on the Orange Mound and Binghamton neighborhoods of Memphis dispelled many of the myths that existed at that time about the lack of neighborhood identity and rich heritage in the South and created a research base that influenced the next four decades of research and program outreach in the Mid-South. His dissertation remains one of the most referenced documents by students, teachers, planners, and residents regarding neighborhood studies in the Memphis community today. Over the upcoming years, Charles’ applied research expanded into the fields of African-American heritage, faith-based community action, and drug and alcohol rehabilitation, making him a tremendous fount of knowledge for faculty, students and community residents.
Charles’ roots in anthropology run deep: in the interview he comments, “It’s almost like I’d always been in anthropology and didn’t know it. “ He reflected that as a child and adolescent he was always asking questions about the world inside and outside the Mississippi Delta. He remarked, “If you’re not inquisitive by nature, you probably won’t make a good anthropologist.”
His love of teaching and engaging students in local research has always been extraordinary. He developed a reputation as one of the best faculty members in the University for Working with undergraduate students to build upon their strengths and interests as well as advising his graduate and undergraduate students into careers. His extensive knowledge of African-American heritage led to his directorship of the African and African-American Studies Program and to the development of curriculum changes throughout the university.
Charles Williams has a long history of involvement in interdisciplinary projects and programs and has always recognized the importance of collaboration in education and community-based projects and programs. In short, he was a pioneer in developing new partnerships among the various disciplines in the Mid-South region. These partnerships include The University of Tennessee Health Sciences Center, the University of Memphis’ College of Education, and the African-American Studies Program. Throughout his career he has collaborated with faculty and students from the other behavioral sciences.
Charles developed an extensive set of networks in the city, the state and the region. He has worked with agencies as varied as the utility company to local and state government to grassroots organizations in every part of the metropolitan area. Part of his success in working with so many and varied agencies and organizations is his generous personality which make working with him both easy and enjoyable.
Perhaps most importantly, Charles really cares about education outreach and engaged scholarship in the Mid-South and surrounding Mississippi Delta. He has spent endless hours working with groups–particularly youth–in communicating the importance of engaging in civic activities to make Memphis and the region a better place to live. He is a rare and talented educator who has and will continue to advance the goals of higher education in the Mid-South region.
Although Charles Williams retired in 2012, he continues to teach in the Department of Anthropology as Professor Emeritus.
The interview was done by Linda A. Bennett and the transcript edited by John van Willigen.
BENNETT: Charles, I thought I’d start by asking you, when you were at Rust College, as an undergraduate, how you got interested in studying anthropology in the first place?
WILLIAMS: Linda, to be, perfectly honest with you, going to Rust as an undergraduate, I had no knowledge of anthropology, nor did I have any formal training as an undergraduate in the subject. However, I did have a professor at Rust College, who taught me a course on Red China. His name was Dr. John Cook, from Howard University, who was teaching at Rust. And [he was] extremely tall in stature. A very renowned presence. He taught this course. I thoroughly enjoyed the course, in terms of its depth and brevity of everything. And it was almost as if he was Chinese that was teaching this course. And I’ve always [have] been curious. In fact, I was asking him, one day I went down and waited around after class, until his other students left. And I was saying, “Dr. Cook, I’m thoroughly enjoying your class, but how do you know so much about the Chinese?” You know, “It’s almost as if you were Chinese.” And I said, “And you’re too tall to be Chinese.” It’s was — that was my knowledge of Chinese people at the time. I didn’t think they would get that tall in stature. But of course my knowledge base has expanded since then. I know how, Yao Ming, who plays for the Houston [Rockets], that professional basketball team is extremely tall, but he’s Chinese. But anyway, he told me — he said, “Well, you know, I’m an anthropologist and I did my field work in China, mainland China. And I lived with Chinese people off and on for many years.” And so forth, and so on. And I said, “Anthropologist?” He says — “I said anthropologist.” And, of course, I didn’t want to appear naïve, and so forth. I tried to give the impression that I knew exactly what that was, but I didn’t. So anyway, that was my first introduction to anthropology. But, I majored in what we called social science. We had a social science major. I was a social science major. I had political science as a minor. I was always impressed with the thoroughness of Dr. Cook’s presentations. I mean, it was almost like he would mesmerize you. In fact, I had the little book. In fact, I still have the book I had when I was in undergrad school.
WILLIAMS: It’s one of my favorite books on Red China, Mao Zedong, and the whole nine yards, and so forth. The Cultural Revolution, what they were going through then. I guess that was the first germ leading me to anthropology. So, I went ahead, and had the course. Made me out a course. Did well. I went on. And put anthropology in the recesses of my mind, and went on about my business. And of course, I was graduating. And so, I was going to teach at another school — at a Catholic school. St. Mary’s Catholic School — I was going to teach it there. At Howard, went in to fill the vacancy, my supervising teacher, who had demised. And, so I had to complete his term. So they hired me. And then, it was, kind of, unusual how they did it. But I thoroughly enjoyed it.
BENNETT: Was it Howard Springs?
WILLIAMS: It was at Howard Springs, I think it’s called Gaudet Academy now.
BENNETT: Uh-huh. Yeah.
WILLIAMS: But it was the St. Mary’s, at the time. And so, anyway, I was late getting out. I wanted to go to law school. And I’ve always been impressed with Madison, Wisconsin, and the University of Wisconsin at Madison. And that’s where I wanted to go. And, I had sent out some applications. I was very late in the process. Again, so, obviously, I was not going to be in the fall class of ’69 when I graduated. So, a recruiter from the University of Illinois came to campus. And, I met with the development director, Mr. Mayfield. And got information about the students, and so forth and so on. And he interviewed all of the students who were graduating. And going through his list. And so, one day, he was telling this to me. He was telling me his story coming to meet Demitri Shimkin. Let’s recruit him. He told Mr. Mayfield, he said, “Well, Mr. Mayfield, I’ve been through the list. And he’s just an excellent student,” and so forth. He said, “But, I think there’s a feeling that, and I hadn’t found the right — in terms of what I see is — because it’s going to really be a very intense program at the university. And we have to have success. And, so, I’m trying to build success in on the front end as much as possible. And so, I was looking at this list last night, and noticed that there are two students on that list that I haven’t interviewed, but they’re on your list as graduated.”
WILLIAMS: Anthony showed me the list. He said, “What about, Charles Williams and Hilda Bookman?” Which is my wife, of course. So the man said, “Oh, yes.” He said, “Well, they just got married. And, they’ve got to live off-campus. Okay? And he said, “Oh, okay. So now, that explains it.” He said, “But could you get me in to have an interview with him?” He said, “Of course, yeah. They live right across the campus.” So, sure enough, he did. And we met with Demitri Shimkin. He came in, and he immediately introduced himself, being from the University of Illinois, et cetera. And he said he was an anthropologist. So that’s the second time I’ve heard the word “anthropologist.” And, of course, I tried to give Demitri the immediate impression that I knew exactly what anthropology was. I was going to use everything that Dr. Cook told me.
WILLIAMS: And he said, “Well, have you heard of anthropology?” I say, “Oh, of course. Many times.” I really mean it. [laughter] I said, “Oh, sure, of course I know anthropology. I do field work. By the way, where did you do your field work?” I’m asking, Trying to impress him, I guess. But anyway, he told me he did it in Siberia, in Russia, and so forth. That not only was he an anthropologist but was also a geographer. But to make a long story short, we had a, I think, an excellent interview. In fact, he recruited us.
BENNETT: Mm-hmm. Yeah.
WILLIAMS: And, he told Mr. Mayfield — he said, “Well, for one thing — that I like they are a couple — they’re already married. So they — they have a support system.”
WILLIAMS: “They’re going — because both of them are going in to — it’s going to be pretty intense. So, I really would like to fill this in on the front end, and offer them a full ride.” Hilda received a full fellowship. And we both were honor students. She was much brighter than I was at the time, still is. She got a fellowship, and I got an assistantship.
WILLIAMS: So that would mean that I was going to have to work, and get the GA and so forth. But, that’s basically what my introduction to anthropology and how I got in it. And, of course, it was through those two contacts. And wherever they may be today, in fact, poor Demitri [Shimkin] is deceased.
WILLIAMS: And when I told Demitri I wanted to go to Madison, Wisconsin, to go to law school, that I had applied, but I hadn’t heard anything — he said, “Well, you know, we have a wonderful law school at the University of Illinois. And if you don’t like anthropology, you can always just –” And, in fact, I know Dean [Quick?] — Charles [Quick?] — who is the dean of the law school at Illinois.
WILLIAMS: And of course, I didn’t, I liked anthropology. It was, like, to be perfect honestly with you, Linda, it’s almost like I’d always been in anthropology and didn’t know it.
WILLIAMS: I’ve always had a natural interest in things, and trying to figure out what — why things, and, in fact, sometimes to a fault. Growing up in a very conservative, black community in Columbus, Mississippi. At that time, children were to be seen and not heard. I don’t know, but for some reason my mother and grandmother and father steered us a little bit different. So I was always asking questions of people. And even when they would be talking to other people, I’d be pulling on them, saying, “Look, why is this happening?” And many times they couldn’t answer my question. They just, kind of, shooed me away. And say, you know, “Go away.” (Laughter)
BENNETT: But they didn’t discourage asking the questions?
WILLIAMS: I’m not sure. At least my family didn’t.
BENNETT: Yeah. That’s what I mean.
WILLIAMS: Yeah, they didn’t. But a lot of other people really said, “You’re very annoying.” And, you know, so –
BENNETT: Well, you already anticipated the second question. And that was how you decided to do graduate work at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
WILLIAMS: Yeah, I forgot the first, you know, leaving the confines of, the security of Rust College, and family, and so forth. It really did help that I was married. We could lean on each other, and provide as well. So, it really helped, and made a difference. But I got into anthropology, and I immediately went to it like a duck to water. I mean, it was a natural fit. And when they told me that anthropology, basically, had no parameters, in terms of what you studied. And that was, “Oh, wow, it was like being in a smorgasbord.”
WILLIAMS: You know, so — I mean, “You can study this and that?” “Of course you can.” And so, of course, I did a lot of work in political anthropology as well as medical anthropology my two areas, based upon the people who [were] my advisors and so forth.
WILLIAMS: So, basically, that’s, kind of, how I got into it.
BENNETT: How about your entrée into applied anthropology?
WILLIAMS: Okay. Good question. Demitri Shimkin was, basically, without — I mean, at the time, everybody was just anthropologists.
BENNETT: Mm-hmm. Yes.
WILLIAMS: People weren’t wearing labels in other than your area of your specialization. Demitri, basically, was an applied anthropologist, but without the label.
WILLIAMS: He was doing applied work and training us in doing applied anthropology.
WILLIAMS: And, of course, I thought it was anthropology. But I think it was more than just theory. But, again, that’s how [he would] take us to places, and introduce us to communities, organizations, and other things. Kind of, getting us outside of the classroom, where we could test our theoretical stuff that we had learned in the classroom, and see what kind of applications it would have. At the time, Demitri was an incredible researcher-scholar. He had projects, all kinds of projects in a lot of places. But one of his passions was Mississippi, Holmes Country, Mississippi.
BENNETT: Oh, okay.
WILLIAMS: And I later learned that’s why he had taken an interest in recruiting, in Mississippi. It was because of his work and the work of his son, in Holmes County, Mississippi. If I could deviate just a little bit. His son, Alex, Alex Shimkin, who was a student at the University of Michigan, had left school to participate in the civil rights movement and went to Mississippi. That’s one of the young students who helped the voter registration and other kinds of civil rights activities. Well, in going there, it was quite a hostile environment. Klan, and all White Citizens Councils, and all these other types of groups. They were pretty hard on the students, as well as the local people, and anyone who tried to help them to raise the people’s vote. Alex was very instrumental in helping to form what we call today — along with a lot of other people, he definitely had a hand in it — was the Freedom Democratic Party of Mississippi. And in fact, I don’t know if you can remember the, ’68 when they had the convention, the Democratic convention in Chicago.
BENNETT: Very well.
WILLIAMS: Yeah, well, they were very active trying to be seated. That was part of the same group. But Demitri took an interest in it, because he son was there. Demitri was still working. And, to be perfect honest with you, Demitri has told me the story many times, as well as his wife, Edith. Edith Shimkin. I’m very close to them, also Stan [Hyland], was very close to him.
BENNETT: Yes, correct.
WILLIAMS: Demitri really had his students, and I guess that’s, sort of, why we’re like we are. Because we have a, kind of, collateral relationship with our students.
WILLIAMS: You know, you work hand-in-hand, and so forth. Well, Demitri was very much like that, as well as his wife, Edith. But, he told me that he had, sort of, got on his son for dropping out of school, and not finishing. And his son told him that the mission, and what he was doing, was so important that, he was going to finish school. He wanted to finish school. But he felt that the time was right. And this was his sacrifice. He was giving back. And he, sort of, indicted Demitri by not being as active as he felt he should have been.
WILLIAMS: So, I guess he, kind of, convicted Demitri’s heart, a little bit. But Demitri — especially after Alex, left the Freedom Democratic in Mississippi and race freedom rides, and he went to Vietnam. See he wanted to go to Vietnam, and, as a Peace Corps worker. And, of course, we never found out what happened to him. But he just came up missing.
BENNETT: Oh, okay.
WILLIAMS: And we haven’t found his remains, even today. But Demitri became almost a zealot in terms of his applied work in Mississippi. Doing all kinds of — starting a health center, and many other kinds of education programs, many types of organizations. So, and plus, I my in-laws were from Holmes County.
BENNETT: They are.
WILLIAMS: Hilda’s people are from the same county. And they knew Demitri. Knew him very well. Knew Alex — of course. Her father and brother-in-law were very active in civil rights. So, he knew them. And the Shimkins all became, sort of, a big family. And I didn’t know any of this, of course, until after the fact.
BENNETT: Yes. Yeah.
WILLIAMS: But I didn’t know this prior to my interview at Rust College, so I learned all of this. So that was, more or less, how, I guess — and Demitri would tell us often, that you have to have passion. You can’t just do it as an intellectual exercise, with working with people, because people have feelings. They have problems that need to be solved. And sometimes, you can bring them an idea or a technique. But you can’t own the people. You have to give them the idea or the technique, and be willing to, eventually, let them continue to survive on their own.
WILLIAMS: But you have helped them along the way. Well, I guess I’m a product of that.
BENNETT: Yeah, and that stayed with you.
WILLIAMS: And that stayed with me, because, you know, I’m saying those are my people. And that’s my community. (Laughter) So we can’t — you know, we don’t own anyone.
BENNETT: Right. Yes.
WILLIAMS: And those people were surviving before you got there. And they probably will survive after we leave. So, you have to just say, well, I worked there for such-and-such a time. And I gave them this. And so, that’s one of my philosophies toward doing applied work.
WILLIAMS: And Demitri was my mentor at it. And he was very good at it.
BENNETT: And he was very hands-on, wasn’t he?
WILLIAMS: Yeah, very hands-on. Excellent craftsmanship. I would plan stuff, and he taught us all that.
BENNETT: Well, in addition to Demitri and Dr. Cook, have there been other people who had a major influence on your career –
WILLIAMS: (laughter) Of course, yeah.
BENNETT: I’m sure. Yeah. (Laughter) But, who would you put there?
WILLIAMS: In fact, to be perfectly honest with you, I had the greatest admiration for people who go against the grain, straining against the current. So, those anthropologists, in particular, who have gone against the norm — have gone against tradition — have been the ones who most impress me, of course. I think about E.B. Tylor, as, you know, being, of course, the father of anthropology. But probably the greatest influence — it’s almost like I knew him, was Boas. I guess I don’t like labels, but if someone would [have] called me a Boasian, I wouldn’t be too upset by that.
BENNETT: You wouldn’t be opposed to that? (Laughter)
WILLIAMS: No, I wouldn’t be opposed to that kind of stuff.
WILLIAMS: I mean, he was quite a soul. I think I’ve been influenced by Boas’ work, even though we don’t see him quite, quote-unquote, as an applied anthropologist, per se, in the way we look at applied anthropology today. But as far as I’m concerned, I would feel that he was among the first to do a lot of applied work. And, especially, in the areas of race relations, and helping to influence governmental policies, in terms of this whole issue on race, and how we look at it. So, obviously, as far as Boas — that’s been one of the people that I could just name, and I mean I could be here all day and talking about people that have influenced me. But, I think that, beyond Boas and, of course, his students and people he worked with, I’d like to work with [Melville J.] Herskovits. And, of course, Kroeber, Lowie and all these other people who worked among the Indians, and so forth. That’s really applied work. And of course, those who have picked up the mantle, John van Willigen, you know, Linda Whiteford, Marietta Baba and all these other people who were, kind of, keeping that going. And also [William] Montague Cobbs, and Allison Davis. And African-American anthropologists who have also contributed, they’re doing fine work.
WILLIAMS: And not being recognized so much for what they’re doing.
WILLIAMS: And now we look back, many years later, and it’s hard, you know, but at the time they were going through this it cost them a lot of other factors, I think. You know, the race, and other kinds of things that — that held us back. But again, too, that’s the good side of applied anthropology. Here, I always try to get my students to understand. That’s the beauty of it. But, we have our skeletons in our closet, as well, in terms of some of our applied work –
WILLIAMS: — that’s been used against people, especially on the colonial kinds of conditions, and governmental kinds of things. Those, but you could say that for almost any discipline. That knowledge and information — people take it, and misuse it, and abuse it, even though, oftentimes, you have no recourse as to how your information’s being used, once it’s been released. People can take it and do what they want with it. But I have a problem sometimes on that applied anthropologists who, knowing that their work’s going to be used to subjugate people or to push an agenda that goes against humanity, so to speak.
WILLIAMS: So I’m saying, I guess we have the two sides of applied.
BENNETT: Sure. Mm-hmm.
WILLIAMS: There’s a good side to it, and, they’ve done a lot of excellent work. And they’ve taken anthropology into places, and made it almost a household word. I don’t think those are the theoreticians. It’s the Margaret Meads of the world, and the people who work on these community projects –
WILLIAMS: And, whether it’s in Africa, in developing countries, or wherever the nature may be, those are the kinds of things that resonate with people. Not that I’m opposed to, because even applied anthropology has its theoretical components. But I’m saying that we have to take the heart of anthropology — the theory, and the techniques — and you have to go out and use them to better humanity. And to help government do public policies to help perfect a better way of life.
WILLIAMS: So, we need both. And so, I’m not opposed to — I think — and sometimes it bothers me when we get into these little arguments. I think we do a disservice to what I call the dynamism of anthropology. Because it’s dynamic — that’s the beauty of it.
WILLIAMS: And, uh, I think we get important people who [say] it’s not a science, you know. But I just think that’s [a] useless issue.
BENNETT: Well, I have a very broad question.
BENNETT: And that is, how you would describe what your career has been in applied anthropology, personally. And that could take such a long time.
WILLIAMS: Well, that could. (Laughter) I know. We’ll never have enough time. But basically, other than my training under Demitri –
WILLIAMS: I started doing applied work as it related to my dissertation. My dissertational research when I came here, to the community. And through the efforts of Stan Hyland, Tom Collins –
WILLIAMS: And people who were trying to build an applied program, and they picked up, and I could offer something, so — So, I would say, basically, working in the community of Orange Mound [Editor’s Note: a neighborhood of Memphis] I think, launched, my applied work. Because not only did I do my dissertation work, there were several other projects emanated from those studies, and my dissertation came out of that. And in particular, in Binghampton [Editor’s Note: a neighborhood of Memphis]. Binghampton was the community I did my dissertation work in. But, it was also going through some problems, it was an aging community. It was an area that was highly transitory. A city ordinance that allowed these developers to come in, and put in all these mass, multi-dwelling units.
WILLIAMS: Rentals, cheap, rental units. So, it basically, destroyed the concept of community. But it left a lot of the elderly [who] couldn’t move. They couldn’t move away.
BENNETT: Because it was mostly single-family homes, and places –
WILLIAMS: Yeah, this, single-family — some of them were intact families, but most of them was mothers with children, and –
BENNETT: Oh, okay.
WILLIAMS: You know, but it gives a representative of the struggle that people are going through economically. Struggling — a lack of education. But, the problem that I noticed, even when I was doing my dissertation work, was how the elderly would rely so heavily upon one of the facilities in the community. At the time I was doing my dissertation work that was the health center.
WILLIAMS: And it was within walking distance. And they didn’t have to travel so far. And then after I finished my dissertational work, and a few years later, they decided to close the health department, in terms of cutbacks. They wanted to close the clinic.
WILLIAMS: And they chose to close the clinic in Binghampton. And going back to applied, applied anthropology (laughter).
WILLIAMS: It’s applied anthropology. Well, in doing so, many of the people whom I had been friends with, and knew about my work, invited me to some of the community meetings to talk about what we wanted to do. And I said, “Well, for one thing, we should just invite the director of Shelby County Health Department.”
BENNETT: Who was the director of the –
WILLIAMS: Charles Konigsberg.
BENNETT: Oh, okay.
WILLIAMS: Charles Konigsberg was the director at the time, along with Dick Swiggart. When Charles left, Dick Swiggart became the director. But, they saw a need, and when the people expressed it to Dr. Konigsberg — that need, and how difficult it — they were going to transfer it. And say, “Well, we’ll leave the clinic open, but it’s going to be up to Hollywood [Editor’s note: a neighborhood of Memphis].”
BENNETT: Mm-hmm. Yeah.
WILLIAMS: Which is almost light years away, in terms of these elderly people. And so you had taken away an institution or an agency or a facility in the community. Once you take it away, you kill the community a little bit.
WILLIAMS: Right? And so, I have had countless numbers of conversations with Dr. Konigsberg about this. And I shared with him some of my dissertational work, and he read it. And I was surprised that he read it. And he said, “I have a whole different view of this community.”
WILLIAMS: He would point out to me things that we never think about, you know, “We have a whole different approach and perspective.” And so, he said, “Well, Charles, let me ask you a question.” He said, “Will you just help me to deal with this problem? Maybe we can — we will, probably, never be able to have a full-fledged facility there. But we could probably put a satellite.”
WILLIAMS: “We could probably put a satellite center there. Will you help me by telling — so I can go back to back to my board and other powers-that-be — the politicians — to talk about –” So, we did. So, they gave me my first my first grant. My first research study was the Binghampton health project.
WILLIAMS: So, they gave me, I guess, forty-some thousand dollars. I can’t remember exactly what it was, but I think it was about $45,000 to go in and collect the data.
BENNETT: That was in the 1970s?
WILLIAMS: No, that was in mid-eighties.
BENNETT: Mid-eighties. Probably right before that.
WILLIAMS: Yeah, before you came — just before you got here.
BENNETT: Yeah, okay.
WILLIAMS: It taught me a lot. Even though I knew a lot. But it taught even more.
WILLIAMS: And of course, having worked with Demitri around Mississippi, around health and stuff.
WILLIAMS: It was, really, all this — so I knew exactly, how to piece it together. Of course being coached by Demitri and Stan, and Tom Collins — and he had also done work in the community, around schools — the school system there. So it was really, there was a plan.
WILLIAMS: I mean, I was piggy-backing off of what Demitri had told me, and had done in Mississippi health. Then — he had Tom Collins, with education, and he — his work — early work in the community. And, of course, Stan — community organization. -
WILLIAMS: So, it was really a perfect system.
WILLIAMS: So, I couldn’t have had it any better.
BENNETT: When you happen to have all that background in, and doing your dissertation.
BENNETT: But, basically, you had the — a really challenging problem.
[break in audio]
WILLIAMS: I knew that other things were going to emanate from that. I got quite a bit of press notoriety.
WILLIAMS: So, it really, more or less, launched my research agenda.
BENNETT: Oh, okay.
WILLIAMS: And, of course, I involved, I have to give her credit because she would have kept things together, in terms of the morale. And that was, Carolyn Edwards, who also was an anthropologist, worked with me.
BENNETT: Oh, yeah.
WILLIAMS: And did the day-to-day holding everything together. I want to give her credit for that. Because the two of us — she was always a beautiful person. So, it was a joy, but we did it, along with help from all these other people, colleagues, and so forth. I was able to. It really did wonders for the department. So that’s, why — how I moved to — to the health –
BENNETT: Yeah, right.
WILLIAMS: — side — away from the urban.
BENNETT: You got urban in there.
WILLIAMS: Yeah, because we were — a lot of our work with this — almost duplicating. And so, that was a good segue, from urban into the community-health thing. So that’s, kind of, how that got –
BENNETT: Oh, okay. I wasn’t sure what that history was.
WILLIAMS: Yeah, that’s how they got –
WILLIAMS: And, of course, again, it’s more like applied. I noticed that in my work, I noticed street corner groupings. And a lot of times, people were unemployed, under all kinds of depression, and other things. But they’d sit around together, at these locations in both communities. And, most of the time, where they could afford it, they would drink alcohol, and probably smoke pot or something. But I noticed that [at] these gatherings. And so, substance abuse was a tremendous problem in both communities. And so, after the health study, the Binghampton health study. Then I got interested in alcoholism.
BENNETT: Right. Yeah.
WILLIAMS: And, so I was serving on a board at Southeast Mental Health Center.
BENNETT: I remember that. Yeah.
WILLIAMS: Served on the board of Southeast Mental Health Center. And, I mean — it felt like I’m going back to college again, because we were talking so much about organizations and so forth, and how they work, and state government. And how you’re working. So, it was an excellent training. But to have an anthropologist on a mental health center board was also because we able to help several of my projects. And they located in residential communities. And of course, I would help them develop the surveys. And go door-to-door, knocking on doors, and have students to help do that. And to have organizational meetings with community people to embrace that. And so that went well. And, so Southeast Mental Health Center was able to have even a satellite as well in Winchester. But anyway, to relocate to other sites throughout the catchment area.
BENNETT: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.
WILLIAMS: So that was good, but again, applied anthropology –
WILLIAMS: — was able to help a — a mental health center do that. And, of course, the alcoholism thing also was there. And so, I got with Tom Collins, and we had decided, well — I don’t know that much about alcoholism other than, you know, having a nightcap or something.
WILLIAMS: So, we were reading all this stuff. And so we said, “Well, why don’t we just have a conference, and invite in a lot of the community and organizations, and so forth, to come in, and to host this.” And we wrote for a little grant — we got a little grant to host it.
BENNETT: Yeah, yeah.
WILLIAMS: And, so, Dr. David Knott — who I think you know –
BENNETT: Mm-hmm. Yeah.
WILLIAMS: — became one of our pivotal people in that. And so, he spoke and then — incomparably well. I mean, he was [a] better success than we had anticipated.
WILLIAMS: Um, it’s amazing how things, kind of spin off on that, but that launched my background and interest in alcoholism.
BENNETT: And did that lead into the TOADS project?
WILLIAMS: That led to the TOADS, right. And in fact, after the conference — when they were doing the conference, then Dr. Knott asked me, he said, “Charles, what do you know about alcoholism?” I said, “Really, Dr. Knott, to be honest with you — not much of anything.”
WILLIAMS: “I had done reading about it. I know it exists, and what, in real life –“
BENNETT: You see it. (Laughter)
WILLIAMS: “It can kill you. You can see it. (Laughter) But beyond that, I don’t know.” He said, “Well, would you like to learn more about it?” I said, “Yeah, of course.”
WILLIAMS: [He said,] “Well, why don’t you come down to — come down to the hospital?” Down at the state hospital. “Why don’t you come down, and talk with us. And I’ll introduce you to some people here?” Jim Beard was one that was into animal research around alcoholism. I met all these guys, and I started working with them. Also doing counseling.
BENNETT: That’s right. You received some training.
WILLIAMS: I went to training. I had my license as a counselor, substance-abuse counselor. I went days and nights — through David Knott, working there, at the hospital.
WILLIAMS: But I learned so much. And one day, they were going through an audit or something, people from the state was there. They went through, looking at the practice. And Dr. Knott introduced me to the state person who was there doing it. His name was Herb Stone. Herbert Stone. So it was, kind of . . . Anthropology — and, of course, anthropology — I mean, you’ve got to talking, why would you be here [as an anthropologist]? Why do you weren’t out digging.
BENNETT: (laughter) That’s right.
WILLIAMS: (laughter). And so I explained to him how I was into medical issues and mental health. I asked him. I said, “Well, what do you do? What do you do, when you go out to these places and check? What do you look for?”
WILLIAMS: You know? And he said, “Well, I look at records, to make sure that any compliance with this, and basically –” And so forth. I said, “Well, how are they doing? Y’all –” I mean, this — I said, “Well, how are the hospitals doing?” He said, “Well, they’re doing — they’re doing all right.”
BENNETT: (laughter) Good. “As far as we know.”
WILLIAMS: (laughter) and so, I said “Well, do you all talk to any of the clients? You know, people who are being treated here?” (Laughter) He gave me the strangest look. He said, “Do — do what?” (Laughter) I said, “Do you ever talk to the people who are receiving treatment?” He said, “No. But why the hell would I want to do that?” (Laughter)
BENNETT: (laughter) Really?
WILLIAMS: We’re good friends now, but anyway — we laugh about this same conversation, when we first met.
WILLIAMS: We laugh about it.
WILLIAMS: Uh, I said, “Well, they would have a perspective on whether the things are going the way it should be going. Are they functioning?
WILLIAMS: “They have to –” You know, whatever. But he told me — he said, “Well, you know, you messed up my whole day.”
WILLIAMS: He said, “By talking about that.” And he said, “Here, we’re trying to help — are we really helping these people, or what?” (Laughter)
WILLIAMS: And that’s how TOADS came up.
WILLIAMS: And I told him later on, in a week or so. And he said — I had asked him, what kind of data they gather. And so, he sent this UPS truck that backed down the ramp — you know, we’ve got this ramp –
BENNETT: Oh, right. Yes, yes.
WILLIAMS: — that would go down. Well, the — the truck backed down the ramp, and started unloading all of these big, old boxes of earlier –
WILLIAMS: — computer paper.
BENNETT: Yeah — oh, yes, yes.
WILLIAMS: You know, big — those big sheets?
WILLIAMS: Well, he had about fifteen — almost twenty boxes. And he just started loading them right there at the door. Just loading them. And, somebody went and told Tom Collins, that, this stuff was coming in,
BENNETT: It would have to go someplace. (Laughter)
WILLIAMS: for anthropology. And so, when Tom came down, he looked at it. He said, “Well, what is this?” (Laughter) And he says — And, he looked down and saw the state, and “Charles Williams,” and I was just a junior faculty member at the time. But he saw all this stuff. And he said, “Charles, what is all of this?” I said, “To be perfectly honest with you, I haven’t the foggiest idea.” But anyway, I knew they were something from the state.
WILLIAMS: And I cracked open a box and I looked at it. And sure enough, he had all these sheets, you know, they’re just linked together. People pull them out. And it just goes on and on and on. He said, “What the hell are you going to do with all this?” (Laughter) I said, “Well, look through it and see, look through some of them, anyway. And just see what they’re doing.”
WILLIAMS: But that’s how I pieced together TOADS.
BENNETT: Yeah. And I’m going to mention what “TOADS” stands for — the Tennessee Outcomes for Alcohol and Drug Services.
BENNETT: It’s the biggest –
WILLIAMS: Yeah. Right. Exactly. And even those acronyms — I have always been, even growing up, as a kid, my mother used to tell me that I used to pick up bugs and frogs and stuff.
BENNETT: Oh, really? Okay.
WILLIAMS: You know, as a child, I would put them in pocket, and forget that they were there.
WILLIAMS: And then, later on, of course, they would — they would die. And of course, when she washed my clothes, she would say, “Smell this odor, son. What is this?” And then, of course, we got in the habit — and my family will tell you, when I got older. You’d better go check out his clothes. He’s probably got a bug or some poor, little something in there. But anyway, that’s how TOADS came about.
WILLIAMS: But anyway, growing up –“TOADS” really means — I mean I put a lot of thought into it. But if you remember the story of, the childhood story about the ugly toad. And then –
BENNETT: Oh, yeah.
WILLIAMS: — the princess kicking the other, kissing the other toad.
WILLIAMS: And he turned into a beautiful prince. Well, that’s, basically, what treatment does for an alcoholic.
BENNETT: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.
WILLIAMS: Well, they’re the ugly toad, who is there after going through it. Then, once they go through treatment, and they start their recovering, it’s almost like a beautiful princess.
WILLIAMS: The princess has kissed them. And –
BENNETT: That’s a great story. I didn’t realize this.
WILLIAMS: Well, that’s why “TOADS.”
BENNETT: Yeah, yeah.
WILLIAMS: That’s why. And so, that’s where “TOADS” came from.
BENNETT: It wasn’t an accident that it ended up being TOADS. Yeah.
WILLIAMS: No. I knew exactly what I wanted.
BENNETT: Mm-hmm. Yeah.
WILLIAMS: Because that story, resonated. One of these days, I’ll probably write about this.
BENNETT: Yeah, sure.
WILLIAMS: But this is how it came about.
WILLIAMS: Those acronyms.
WILLIAMS: And then, later on, a few years later, of course, then TADPOLE.
WILLIAMS: Which stands for –
WILLIAMS: See if you can — you get it?
BENNETT: Okay, I’ve got it written down here. Uh, Tennessee Alcohol and Drug Prevention Outcomes Longitudinal Evaluation.
BENNETT: Is that right?
WILLIAMS: Well, still working with the state — the state, felt very good that now we have a way to monitor and we could start to evaluate services — especially from the client perspective.
WILLIAMS: It’s the first time that I had to point that out, because I was going back to applied anthropology. We were among the first states in the union to really assess clients for outcome data.
BENNETT: Rather than the deliverers.
BENNETT: Yes. Yeah.
WILLIAMS: Exactly. And so, the state also wondered, what could we do for prevention? Well, here we have a prevention program, and we have no way of assessing, basically what we do for prevention. Of course, then they asked me if I would help develop a model. And I did. But, of course, it was totally different. I said, “It’s not treatment. So you don’t go directly to the clients.” But we had to have some way to get to the participants in the program. And so that’s how we started doing the pre- and post-tests –
BENNETT: Okay. Right.
WILLIAMS: — with those participants. They assess before any kinds of intervention are done with them, they’re assessed on the front end, as to their attitude, knowledge, relationships to whatever. A whole series of domains that we assess them on. After fifteen domains, you assess them.
WILLIAMS: And after they go through that, then, we, actually, analyze the data. But, we hold it and we wait for when they do the post-. They do the post- on the same set of questions.
WILLIAMS: After they have had the interventions, and so forth. And we match up the two, and grade the two.
BENNETT: And isn’t most of the data collected by telephone interviews?
WILLIAMS: Not with — now, TOADS.
BENNETT: With TOADS, it is.
BENNETT: Not in TADPOLE.
WILLIAMS: Not in TADPOLE.
WILLIAMS: In TOADS. With TOADS, it is the telephone.
BENNETT: Mm-hmm. Yeah.
WILLIAMS: Because that’s the only ideal way to reach them. What happens, it’s voluntary, you don’t have to participate.
WILLIAMS: But everybody is voluntary. But, on the front end, while they’re in treatment, they are explained the nature of TOADS — what it’s about. And that, after you have completed your treatment, we go back into the community. You will be contacted — called. And assessed by those folks at the University of Memphis. So you’re, sort of, prepared.
WILLIAMS: We don’t have any incentives. We don’t pay them anything.
WILLIAMS: Just your willingness to — One of the things that came out of that was, something that was not thought of on the front end, in terms of the ramifications — making that contact with the client. Of course, we knew we wanted to get the information as to how they were doing. If they were working, or if they were having problems. We knew we were going to get all that. But what we didn’t know is how important it was for them to know that somebody cared about them.
BENNETT: Oh. Okay.
WILLIAMS: Because most times, if — you know — well, I don’t speak to the choir, because I know this is your work as well. So when people who go through these crises feel that they — kind of, like that. They’ve got –
WILLIAMS: Even though they’re recovering — which, a lot of times — which is why — why their relapse is so high. It’s because they — they can’t reconnect and they feel out of place. And so, when we call them, we ask the client– if we can’t get to the client, we have what we call a collateral, who will stand in for them. Now, they have to tell us all of this on the front end. They have to give us the names of three people whom you have the utmost respect for you — trust — to give us the information if we can’t contact you. So, we contact these people. And they give us those names and information. And so, if we can’t get to that client, we’ll call that collateral –
BENNETT: Right. Yeah. Yeah.
WILLIAMS: — and ask them how they are doing, and so forth. And even if we reach the client, we still call the collateral, just to ask to verify the accuracy –
BENNETT: That makes sense.
WILLIAMS: — of what they are saying. And, sometimes, the collateral is a family member, a relative, or a supervisor at work.
WILLIAMS: And people are always impressed that –
BENNETT: There’s this follow up.
WILLIAMS: That there’s follow up.
BENNETT: Yeah, I can imagine.
WILLIAMS: Yeah, because we really did not anticipate that it would have that — especially when it’s like when someone, like a mother, for instance, I would get calls sometimes on people. And I would think they were calling in to complain about something. And they would call and tell me — they said, “Dr. Williams, I really appreciate it. I didn’t think anybody would be there for me.”
WILLIAMS: “That you would call to check on my daughter or my son. And I just want you to know how much we appreciate it. They know that it’s somebody other than me that cares.”
BENNETT: Right. Yeah.
WILLIAMS: And here’s the big University of Memphis. So, that’s the kind of –
BENNETT: Yeah, that’s really neat.
WILLIAMS: That’s the kind of a thing that, I think that — going back to applied anthropology — that we have been able to bring to the table. Because when we were starting, a lot of people did not see the relevance — importance of it. . . that project for over twenty-two years.
BENNETT: Well, do you think it made a major difference that [you] were an anthropologist when you were carrying out that project.
WILLIAMS: Yeah, I really do. Because you know, even though I feel that my prior experience with the community — and, looking at the state as a community, as opposed to the state that –
WILLIAMS: Within every little community that make’s up the state. They’ve got the same kind of thing that reproduces itself, you know?
WILLIAMS: So, this model will work.
WILLIAMS: This bottom-to-top approach was the approach that we would use as our model. Start at the bottom. It’s not that you have any disregard for those folks at the top, but start at the bottom so you can let the people know, and you can build up the rapport and relationships with people. And work your way upward Instead of coming from the top point down.
WILLIAMS: Because, by the time you come from the top point down, sometimes you already have been contaminated. You know with your views and your ideas and so forth. So that’s the way I work. That’s my standard modus operandi. That’s what I used. But that’s, basically, what TOADS and TADPOLE was about. I think we made that difference. I guess, the one thing that I would have loved to have seen is that [the] prevention TADPOLE would have become even larger than TOADS.
WILLIAMS: Because, we’re dealing with children.
WILLIAMS: And if we can keep them away from [alcohol], hopefully, we can work out of business, where we wouldn’t [have] any need for the TOADS.
BENNETT: Yeah. Mm-hmm.
WILLIAMS: Because you have that little microcosm — why they’re called “tadpoles.”
BENNETT: Mm-hmm. Yeah.
WILLIAMS: They’re a little microcosm of these toads, you know? So, it’s just a matter — and they turn into –
WILLIAMS: You know, do something about them to prevent it — what they turn into. It’s like that. So, that’s, kind of, that whole program.
BENNETT: What age range did the TADPOLEs [have].
WILLIAMS: Good question. We start at grades three through five.
BENNETT: Uh-huh. Yeah.
WILLIAMS: By grade two, whether they be eight or nine.
WILLIAMS: Yeah, we start about there. And we’ll go up to grades — twelve.
BENNETT: Okay. Mm-hmm.
WILLIAMS: The instruments for grade three to five is different. We don’t specify the type of drugs, you know, as we do with the older students.
WILLIAMS: But we do get into attitudes around substances. Attitudes about being safe, and all the other kinds of things. We give this perspective, as to what their knowledge level is, and so forth. So, we started that in ’91. And I think TOADS started somewhere around ’88.
WILLIAMS: Somewhere around there. So, that’s basically how. And so –
BENNETT: You had mentioned earlier –
BENNETT: — and Dennis [Frate?] that makes me think it, those were, also, Dr. Stevens with Demitri Shimkin. And was Brett Williams also in that group?
WILLIAMS: Brett Williams — yeah, Brett was there.
BENNETT: So, you and Stan, and –.
WILLIAMS: Yeah, and also –
BENNETT: That’s amazing.
WILLIAMS: Carol Stack. But she was earlier.
BENNETT: Oh, okay.
WILLIAMS: Carol was there. Another thing, too, is that, I came in with my plans. But I left and went to the military, during the Vietnam War. I spent three years in the service.
BENNETT: Oh, okay.
WILLIAMS: And, I didn’t make it to Vietnam. Thank God for that, but I was on my way to ‘Nam, but I got diverted to Fort Lewis. And I stayed there for the remainder of my tour of duty. BENNETT: So that interrupted your studies.
WILLIAMS: Yeah. And so, I finished. I went back and completed.
BENNETT: What year did you come here in?
BENNETT: Seventy-nine? Okay.
WILLIAMS: Yeah, in 1979. August of ‘79. And, in fact, it was a sign of the times the fact that I came here on a split appointment. I had a split appointment. I half of my salary line was in education, foundations of education. The other half was anthropology. And the reason for that is that I have been a public-school administrator. Even I had completed my course work; I was at ABD status [and] had a child.
WILLIAMS: Got out of the service, Elizabeth.
BENNETT: Uh-huh. (Laughter)
WILLIAMS: (laughter) and so, I had to get a job in between going into the field to do my dissertational work. And Linda, that’s an interesting story, because, really, I started off as going to do my field work in the Solomon Islands.
BENNETT: Oh, really?
WILLIAMS: In Melanesia. I had gotten all my training in Oceania, and was ready to go ahead. I went to the Ford Foundation, waiting on the application for support. And you know, of course, they wrote me back and told me that it was going to be put on hold, because the Solomons were going through an independence movement.
BENNETT: Oh, okay.
WILLIAMS: And they didn’t want any –
BENNETT: Any chance of trouble? (Laughter)
WILLIAMS: Any foreigners coming in. So, they put me at bay. And so, in the meantime, you know, just waiting. Didn’t know how long, if it’ll be a year to whatever.
WILLIAMS: To make a long story short, I decided I’d get busy, and I started taking — I took more courses, on what I call mainland studies, on African-Americans, and so forth.
WILLIAMS: And I was off and running. And decided that for my master’s thesis, I wrote about the black church and that whole thing with the conversion ritual in the black church. But to collect the data for a lot of this, they gave me, as a graduate student, a research line over the summer, so I could go back and talk to people. It was real exciting, so, I went back. I’ve got a couple of those. But in the meantime, while I’m waiting to hear what was going on the conversion study came up prior to my dissertational work. And I tried to go to Oceania. But while I waited for the Oceania, the black studies, I went to Birmingham.
WILLIAMS: And I was going to study, Liberty City.
BENNETT: Uh-huh. Right.
WILLIAMS: I would do my dissertational work in Liberty City, and so forth. And I met the mayor of the city, and all these folks. And I was going to come back, and do my dissertational work. But in the meantime, Stan [Hyland] was hired here at the university.
WILLIAMS: And, Tom Collins, and so forth. So, Stan asked me. He said, “Well, you know, you’re not doing anything over the summer. Why don’t you come here and work?” Well, Charlie McNutt had a sabbatical for a year. So he said, “Why don’t you come and work with us for a year?” And I did. I came as a visiting professor.
BENNETT: And that’s shortly after the master’s program.
WILLIAMS: Yeah. Immediately — right after. They were building in that program.
WILLIAMS: And archaeology was paramount in the department.
BENNETT: Oh, I bet. Yes.
WILLIAMS: Charlie McNutt, and Gerald Smith, and they just, basically, soaked up all the air. (Laughter) And we tried to get a pilot off the ground, and off and running.
WILLIAMS: And, so, and of course, I came in, and, of course, you came in. Well, first Ruthbeth [Finerman], then you.
WILLIAMS: Right. And so, we were off and running.
BENNETT: Building that up. Yeah. (Laughter)
WILLIAMS: Started building the program.
WILLIAMS: But, that must have been a beautiful experience, as I look at it. And it’s been fun. It’s really been fun. And it’s amazing how time passes.
BENNETT: It is really amazing, to me too.
WILLIAMS: That’s how that happened. And then I ended up going to Liberty City, and, of course, Stan said, “Well, come here to Memphis.” And so, Birmingham, even today, if you looked at the socioeconomic demographics of Birmingham, and look at the social demographics of Memphis, they’re similar. Very similar.
BENNETT: Oh, really? Yeah.
WILLIAMS: So I would change a few things. And so, what I did, I went back through, and everywhere where I had “Birmingham,” I just changed it to “Memphis.” (laughter)
WILLIAMS: That was my proposal.
BENNETT: It wasn’t a difficult transition then?
WILLIAMS: It was not, whatsoever. (Laughter) Gave it to my committee. I’m still waiting. I say, well, whenever the Solomons come through with the independence, I’m still going to — and, hopefully, one day I don’t know. But that’s been eons ago odds are, though, I probably will never go. But I always wanted to.
BENNETT: I didn’t know about the Solomon Islands. (laughter)
WILLIAMS: Oh, yeah.
BENNETT: I don’t know how I didn’t know that.
WILLIAMS: In fact, I’ve taught courses in Oceania.
BENNETT: That I know.
WILLIAMS: Demitri was, kind of, my advisor, in a sense. My major advisor. But, really, on a day-to-day basis [my advisor was] Harold [M.] Ross. Who, also, was a Navy commander, in the military.
WILLIAMS: And, he did his work, right across the island from where I was going to be doing mine. But anyway, he was my advisor. And he was heavily into the whole Oceania thing, and Melanesia. So, that’s another side of me that –
BENNETT: Well, do you have any, words of wisdom for junior colleagues who are considering moving into applied anthropology as a career?
WILLIAMS: I don’t know. You know, Linda, to be perfectly honest with you, I know a lot of people would probably disagree with me about this, but I think a lot of what makes up anthropology, you have to either have it or you don’t have it. I mean, it has to be something about your nature, your make-up.
WILLIAMS: Yeah, so, in other words, the techniques, the training, and all of that information, of course, comes directly. It’s something that has to be in you. You have to have this passion and this desire to want to go places. Even, like, my mother -in-law oftentimes asks me. She says, she calls me “Junior.” So, I’m telling him about it. And she says, “Junior” I say, “Uh, yes, ma’am?” She says, “Now, why would you want to go somewhere where you don’t have anyone, you don’t know anybody, no family, folks?”
BENNETT: Yeah. (Laughter)
WILLIAMS: I said, “Well, I just want to go and see what it’s like, and meet the people. And I don’t — you know — make friends, and –” But she always, to her last day, that I think sometimes she thought I was a little or something, because I would away and stay, study people. I didn’t know anybody, just go there and make my way.
BENNETT: A lot of curiosity and –
WILLIAMS: Yeah. I don’t know what it is. But I’m saying, you have to have whatever that is. I can’t quite define it. But, whatever it is, you have to want it. And maybe nobody else can give it to you. You need this desk stuff. You can read the books. You can learn the theories. You can get all of that. But if you’re not inquisitive by nature you probably won’t make a good anthropologist. Because that’s, sort of, the hallmark, you have to be inquisitive.
WILLIAMS: And that’s what I like about Boas, and you’re asking the questions, and you’re seeing relationships between different encounters and experience. And, I’ll never forget his presentation to the students. He was invited to speak to students in Atlanta — black students, liberal arts, DuBois, W.E.B. DuBois invited him. [Editor’s Note: This was a commencement address to Atlanta University in 1906.]
WILLIAMS: I like his whole approach to racism, and other things that he had experienced firsthand. He was a genius, in terms of his information, his knowledge. But he couldn’t get away from his ethnicity. You know, that was him. But he didn’t run away from it. He dealt with it. But, in going and talking to those students, I could understand. In fact, I had a greater appreciation for Boas because he told them. He said, “Look, you’re faced with these challenges. But don’t let them weight you down. You have to move on.” He felt very seriously that much of what we are facing was going to always be with us, to some degree. But you’ve got to move on from it.
BENNETT: You just have to live with it, and go.
WILLIAMS: Yeah, but you do your thing. You go ahead and make a difference. You keep striving. And so, that has, sort of, been my mantra, you know?
BENNETT: Is it?
WILLIAMS: You have to just keep going.
BENNETT: That makes a lot of sense, yeah.
WILLIAMS: You know, if you let it get to you, it’s going to weight you down. And, it’s too much for any one person to overcome. And, it’s probably, part of people’s culture because they are reared that way. It is the very powerful. But, they would change completely. I think it’s going to change over time. But, right now, you have to face [it]. I was always impressed by that.
People are going through struggles, and in their academics. And have, only now do they have great achievement. But they have faced obstacles, the odds. I hear people and students; I’ve heard them talk about the greatness of people like Einstein. He spoke. And they went through a lot. Struggled.
WILLIAMS: And, you know he’s Jewish. So, I’m just always amazed at Demitri, being Jewish. He basically prepared me and, I think, Stan, and the rest of us. But you have to go against it. You have to go against the odds. You if you feel passion in your heart that this is what you should do, as he would say, you know, “Speak truth.”
WILLIAMS: We’re seeking truth. As much truth as we can understand it, you may get a little piece of it. And, of course, later on, somebody else may show you another way, and you’ll say, “Well, I was going about it wrong.” But, your intentions were to seek truth and provide a service for people. Well, that is the way I am towards young scholars, I would tell them, and you never bias your data. You don’t cut corners. You be true to yourself. But you have to see those people you’re working with; you have to see them as human beings. You can’t see them as a subject, only as something to study, like in a laboratory. They’re people.
WILLIAMS: And, once you get to know them, they can teach you. They become the teachers, because they know more about their culture than you do.
BENNETT: Yeah, because they’ve been there.
WILLIAMS: So you’re the student. And you have to show them some appreciation for what they are trying to teach you. And if you do, they’ll show you more, and tell you more. You’ll get into the intricacies of their culture. Because they will, you know, feel comfortable with you.
BENNETT: When you show genuine interest in them they respond.
WILLIAMS: They respond.
WILLIAMS: And, but don’t assume you have all the answers.
BENNETT: Oh, absolutely. (Laughter) I mean, why you would be there if you just were going to disagree. (Laughter)
WILLIAMS: (laughter) That’s my whole — that’s my whole point.
WILLIAMS: I’d be telling my students all about these places, when I traveled to places. But — that’s what it’s about. And I told them, people kiss babies there. You know? They kiss babies.
WILLIAMS: You know, they love their families, and –
BENNETT: Oh, the babies. Yeah.
WILLIAMS: Yeah, you had to have everything.
BENNETT: Now you don’t.
WILLIAMS: No. But anyway, I wanted to tell him. “So — what do you — you know, they have people there just like anybody else.” You know?
WILLIAMS: Yeah, but it’s a thing where, if you don’t travel. I think it should be mandatory. That’s what I wish [that] they could make it mandatory for anthropologists. You have to travel outside of your own culture. And see what it’s like.
BENNETT: It’s a huge –
WILLIAMS: There’s a difference.
BENNETT: — eye-opener.
WILLIAMS: And it’s humbling.
WILLIAMS: And it sometimes makes you appreciate what you have even more. But then you’re seeing, it’s a humbling type of experience. Linda, we could probably get talking forever — and ever. But there’s a lot of things that I would have done. And I’ve tried to engage my colleagues. And they have engaged me. And we’ve done things collaboratively. I do believe in collaboration. Not just only with my colleagues in anthropology, but in many other disciplines. I think that’s just the nature of the way human societies are today. They are so complex
BENNETT: I agree.
WILLIAMS: It really takes a lot of different perspectives and viewpoints.
BENNETT: And listening.
WILLIAMS: Right, exactly. And also, even different techniques and skill levels to do certain things.
WILLIAMS: And I have been fortunate enough, over my career, to work with people across disciplines. And I think that has a lot to do with applied.
BENNETT: Oh, that’s a good point. Yeah.
WILLIAMS: It’s not a forced stretch, because when we can work collaboratively, as applied anthropologists, people can see — whether it’s in education or whether it’s in urban planning. You know, whatever nature it may be. We can work collaboratively, because we can bring a certain perspective to the table. We can also learn from the other disciplines’ perspective that they bring. So, put the pieces together, and we get a more comprehensive view as to how things should go, and what they should be like.
BENNETT: Well, that sounds like a nice note to end this conversation. Charles, thank you very much. This was very interesting to me. And, I thought I knew more about you than I knew. (Laughter)
WILLIAMS: That’s amazing.
BENNETT: It’s been really appreciated.
WILLIAMS: I did want to mention, though, one other thing, Linda, then you can actually close out. Is the work we did in terms of the homeless.
WILLIAMS: This whole concept of homeless, homelessness was relatively new to the South at the time, we were in.
BENNETT: Yeah. That’s right.
WILLIAMS: We were involved in it.
WILLIAMS: People didn’t understand it. And here we — applied anthropologists, sort of, walked out into the deep. And tried to make some sense out of that, and give something back to organizations and institutions, so that they can deal with this issue. Free the Children.
WILLIAMS: I mean, we could name a lot of –
BENNETT: That’s true. — Programs that, uh — that started off one way, but anthropologists — applied anthropologists –
WILLIAMS: — have stepped up to the plate, to say –
BENNETT: Were connected, and they stuck around.
WILLIAMS: And to show leadership.
WILLIAMS: And to work with the politicians, with the agencies, organizations. I chuckle to myself sometimes. It’s that, they pay me to do this. (Laughter) You know? What else would I be doing if I weren’t doing this?
WILLIAMS: This kind of thing. And I know you miss it. And I know administrative duties sometimes get you down, but it’s really good. But it’s to get back out, and to do some of those kinds of things, seek answers.
WILLIAMS: That’s what it’s about.
BENNETT: It does limit that. (Laughter)
WILLIAMS: I know it does. I know you have passion for the applied work.
WILLIAMS: So you do it with through organization work. And telling the story. I think that’s what it’s about — why people like John van Willigen, Erv Chambers, Linda Whiteford, and all these different people.
BENNETT: And working with our students to teach –
WILLIAMS: Yeah, and working with students, and showing them how. But one other person, Linda, that I wanted to end with, that had a tremendous impact on me, was Benjamin Paul.
WILLIAMS: I didn’t know him personally. But I’ve read his works.
WILLIAMS: He’s right out of the applied tradition.
BENNETT: Yes, definitely.
WILLIAMS: Every time I think about Paul Farmer, I see Benjamin Paul and Paul Farmer.
WILLIAMS: He just goes on and on. It’s just [that] you’re making a difference. And how those people responded to Paul Farmer. He went there to do one thing, but he realized there was a need.
WILLIAMS: They needed proper health care. They didn’t have it. So he stepped outside of his intellectual capacity to collect data. So, that’s what it’s about. I look at Paul Farmer’s work, the same thing. It was the HIV, and so forth. It’s applied work.
BENNETT: Caring for people.
WILLIAMS: Caring for people. And once you lose that edge, I think, if you lose that edge, where you care for people, I think you really can’t do applied work. Because you have to care.
BENNETT: That will always be — yeah.
WILLIAMS: You have to care for them and feel that you are part of the team. They make a part of the team. You bring in another part of the team. But to work together, you make the team.
WILLIAMS: And when you can build a well, to get some fresh water to come in, that’s the greatest joy.
WILLIAMS: Whereas before, they was drinking out of the creek, or whatever. Now, they’ve got a well, and the first water’s coming in. Or a health center.
BENNETT: Boost. It’s a real boost.
WILLIAMS: It’s really a boost to whatever makes you what you are. You really feel that you have achieved something. So, that’s applied anthropology. I’m glad I’m an applied anthropologist.