Frank Williams broker-owner of F.J. Williams Realty in Chicago – PHOTO BY MATT DIFANIS
The fight over fair housing came right to Frank Williams’ front door.
In the 1970s, when community opposition to his work helping African Americans move into Chicago’s Beverly neighborhood reached a fever pitch, someone threw a Molotov cocktail into his family’s home and firebombed the front door.
But Williams, who never wavered in his commitment to making sure housing was accessible to everyone, was not one to back down in the face of adversity.
“The game is inside, not outside, and you’ve got to be there and you’ve got to make it known what your concerns are, “ he said. “You will be heard and accepted sometimes and sometimes you won’t be. But if your message is righteous and you’ve got your soldiers following you and working with you, things will improve.”
Williams got his real estate license and by 1971 had formed his own company, F.J. Williams Realty, that he ran with his wife, Joanne. When they worked with African American clients who wanted to move into the Beverly neighborhood, they were harassed and accused of blockbusting by residents.
“We were selling a lot of houses, a lot of properties and the community organizations attacked us that first year, breaking our office windows and demonstrating in front of the office,” he said.
There was also a network of residents in town who would call his office all day long, jamming the phone lines and warning him to stop selling in their neighborhood.
But Williams persevered and pushed forward, getting involved in local and state REALTOR® organizations, even when he was the only African American member in the meetings.
“I made my presence known over and above just being seen,” he said. “I always attempted to be certain that we had a seat at the table and that we let the organization know what our concerns were as it relates to the treatment of all people.”
He would also get involved with the Dearborn REALTIST® Board and serve as president for several terms. That service along with a term as president of the Chicago Association of REALTORS® would give him a platform to advance equal housing opportunities.
In 2017, Williams received the Gale Cincotta Community Visionary Award from the Neighborhood Housing Services of Chicago, Inc. and was inducted into the Chicago Association of REALTORS® Hall of Fame.
“We all want the same thing,” he said. “We want a nice place for our children to grow up. It’s not just the house, it’s the community.”
To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Fair Housing Act, Illinois REALTORS® worked with The Storytellers Studios to produce a video telling the story of REALTOR® involvement, past and present, in the fair housing movement. In the video, Illinois REALTOR® members share their personal experiences in the fight for equal opportunity in housing and reflect on what more needs to be done.
50 Years Of Fair Housing
In 1968, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Fair Housing Act into law. Fifty years later, Illinois REALTORS® commemorates the progress that has been made to provide equal housing opportunity for all and looks at the challenges that remain.