Sullivan Honors Alaskan of the Week: Cal Williams

WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan (R-AK) this week honored Cal Williams on the floor of the Senate. Williams, from Anchorage, has a storied history in Alaska going back to the 1960s when he advocated for the rights of African Americans as part of the civil rights movement. Ever since, he’s been actively engaged in the community as a volunteer, a leader with the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and as choir director at St. Anthony’s Catholic parish. Senator Sullivan recognized Williams as part of his series, “Alaskan of the Week.”


Mr. President, it is Wednesday. Now, normally it is Thursday when I come down here to talk about somebody who is making a huge difference in my State, somebody we refer to as the Alaskan of the Week, someone who is doing something for the community or the State or the country or maybe all of the above. I know we have a new set of pages, but I think it is commonly known that this is the most anticipated speech of the week by the pages. I see the heads nodding, so that is great. 

You guys are learning well, early, so that is wonderful, and I know that the Presiding Officer really enjoys it as well.

I am going to talk today about Calvin Williams, whom everybody in Alaska knows as Cal, who is our Alaskan of the Week, who lives in Anchorage via Louisiana. I am going to talk a lot about Cal here and why he certainly deserves this great honor, but also when I give these remarks, I like to talk just a little bit about what is going on in Alaska at the time.

We have just celebrated the summer solstice, which in a lot of States isn't a big deal, but in Alaska, it is actually a huge deal. It is the longest day of the year, which was last week, and that really means something. You get the 12 midnight Sun energy, and everybody is out. There are celebrations throughout the State. Friends and neighbors gather at parties and community events well past 12 midnight. I had the opportunity to spend last weekend in Fairbanks, AK, where there was a 12 midnight Sun baseball game and a 12 midnight Sun 10K run. I got to participate in some of that. There was just great energy and a great feeling and a lot of sunlight all night.

Across the country and in Alaska, we also just celebrated Juneteenth, which marks the anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. Anchorage celebrated the weekend before last, and Cal Williams, our Alaskan of the Week, was there, as he has been there nearly every year since the first celebration in the 1980s. Cal is a staple at that event and has been at so many other events in Alaska over the decades where people get together, where he has been a community leader and has tried to do good things for our communities throughout the State. So let me tell you a little bit about Cal and how lucky we are to have him in the great State of Alaska.

He was born in 1941 in Monroe, LA. I know we have some Louisianans as pages here. That was the segregated South, and he was born 7 days before the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. He is from a very patriotic family. His parents immediately joined the cause of fighting and supporting our Nation during World War II. His mother worked in the factories to help out the war effort, and his father joined the Army and was sent to the Pacific theater to defend America.

Basically, Cal was raised by his grandmother, who happened to live across the street from church and a K-12 Catholic school, built and run by the Franciscans to serve the African-American Catholic community in the area. Nobody in his family was Catholic, but it was the best school in the area, so that was where he went. The lessons he was taught at this school, the Little Flower Academy--to serve the less fortunate, to feed the hungry, to help all in need--have stayed with Cal forever and have really driven his sense of service. 

The much beloved Sister Consuela, who was the longtime principal and homeroom teacher, made sure that he learned all this.

Sister Consuela was feared and respected. If you did anything bad, if the Sister didn't see you [do something bad], you knew that God did. I carry that with me today.

After high school, he attended Grambling State University--another all-Black school--where he pursued theater and singing. Anybody who knows Cal knows this is another thing that has stayed with him throughout his life. 

Then, like his patriotic mom and dad, he decided to enlist in the Air Force. He was stationed at Vandenberg Air Force Base, where he worked on the Titan II Missile System--an elite position, something that he credits to the schooling he received at Little Flower.

When he got out of the Air Force, he made it back to Louisiana to take care of his father, who had gotten sick. This was during the height of the movement for civil rights--one of the greatest movements, of course, in our Nation's history, a lot of which took place here on this Senate floor. As he often does, Cal jumped in. He jumped in with both feet. He began working with CORE, the Congress of Racial Equality--one of the leading civil rights organizations in the early years of the civil rights movement. He and six other students were the first Black students to proudly integrate what was then called Northeast Louisiana State College.

Eventually, a friend who had moved to Alaska talked him into coming up to our great State. This was in 1965. Cal brought all of his intelligence, his theatrical and musical talents, his abiding deep faith, his fun, and his deep commitment to civil rights and community service to our State in 1965. 

In some ways, it was a good time to be an activist in Alaska. Our State certainly isn't perfect. It is a State, though, that is very committed to equal rights and justice for all. Yet, just like everywhere in the country, we had our problems, and we had our challenges. As I mentioned, we certainly were not perfect in that realm, so Cal had work to do. 

Initially, he was a dishwasher in the hospital by day and was a community activist by night. He helped to lobby the mayor's office in Anchorage to get paved roads and to bring electricity to predominantly African-American neighborhoods. He also helped bring people into the voting booths, which was so important.

The same friend who brought him to Alaska, Charles LeViege, started a newspaper that focused on the African-American community. He joined with the Alaska Native leadership to lobby for the landmark legislation that, again, took place on the Senate floor, here, in 1971--the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. He became the president of the Anchorage chapter of the NAACP, of which he is still a vice president to this very day. 

I have only gotten to 1971, and you can see how much he has done.

In the 1970s, he had a little sojourn in Hollywood to fulfill a lifelong dream of being in the movies. He was. He got some gigs--a spot in a film with Angie Dickinson. The pages don't know who she is, but she was a great actress.

But like some people who leave Alaska, he missed it too much, so he decided to come back, and he did.

So over the years since he has been back, he has helped raise funds for an African-American economic development venture. The group built a building in the Fairview community of Anchorage, which is still there today. They had a social club on the top sponsored by the Alaska Black Caucus--a place to meet with executives and bank officers in a nice setting, community leaders.

He worked in television. He worked for the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation, which has been key to helping people get home ownership.

All through these years, he clung to his roots and his faith. He is a member of the Knights of Columbus and a faithful parishioner at St. Anthony's Catholic Church in Anchorage, where he is the director of the church's Filipino gospel choir, which sounds like angels. ``When we sing,” he said, ``we sing for the Lord.” And no doubt, when they sing, the Lord is listening.

He visits prisons to read the Bible with inmates, sings every week to the patients at Providence Extended Care and every other week to our senior home, which we call the Pioneer Home in Alaska. The residents there love Cal's Elvis impersonations.

If you are in Alaska and happen to be there for Christmas, you should stop by Bean's Cafe, a place where the hungry go for a meal, and Cal will be there every Christmas wearing a Santa cap, singing for hours for everybody who comes in the door. 

This is a gentleman who has done so much for his community and my State, and what is he most proud of? When asked, “My greatest achievement was in 2017 when I received the St. Francis Stewardship Award from the Archdiocese of Anchorage,” Cal said.

St. Francis was the patron saint of the Little Flower Academy. “I have come full circle,” he said. “Sister Consuela would be proud of me.” Then he adds: “But nothing was ever enough for her.”

It is enough for all of us, though, Cal. I thank him for all he has done for Anchorage, for so many different communities, for Alaska, and as an example for our country--for his generosity, kindness, enthusiasm, faith, and faith-filled service throughout his life.

Congratulations to Cal for being our Alaskan of the Week.

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