Raymond “Tweet” Williams, a former coach at Turner, Douglass and Northside in Atlanta, was interviewed in the 2016 documentary "The Amazing Legacy of Turner High." (Courtesy of executive producer Mike Manley.)

Four Questions with former coach, GIA pioneer Raymond ‘Tweet’ Williams

Today's interviewee is Raymond "Tweet" Williams, a former football coach at Turner (1951-67), Douglass (1968-69) and Northside (1970-71) in Atlanta and later an administrator and principal for Atlanta Public Schools. He became athletic director at alma mater Clark Atlanta University (1988-91) and a member of four halls of fame. Williams' 1954 Turner football team won the Class AA championship in the Georgia Interscholastic Association, which governed athletics for all-black schools during segregation. At age 93, Williams is believed to be the oldest living coach of a Georgia state championship high school football team.

Raymond "Tweet" Williams, retired Atlanta coach, GIA pioneer 

1. How was the old GIA formed? ''Prior to the 1950s and 1960s, large black schools in the state were playing sports, but they were not organized. During this time, places like Columbus, Atlanta, Savannah, Macon and Augusta were where the largest schools were located. These schools had to build a schedule by playing each other and going out of the state to play their games. Many of the small schools did not have football, but they did play other sports. Under the leadership of A.Z. Traylor [GIA founder] and the principals of the largest schools in Georgia, the GIA was born [in 1948]. This was the first group in Georgia to organize black schools. There were several conferences within the state, but the big seven formed Class AA. You played all the schools in the conference, and if you had the best record at the end of the year, they'd declare you champion." [The original big seven were Ballard and Hudson of Macon, Beach of Savannah, Spencer of Columbus, Laney of Augusta and Washington and Howard of Atlanta. Turner opened in 1951 with Williams, at age 25, as the school's head football coach and athletic director. Williams also reminisced about his high school coach, L.C. Baker, who is largely forgotten today but was a giant in black high school football in his time at Atlanta's Washington High and is a member of the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame. "He was a fine, outstanding man that loved kids and had a great knowledge about coaching all the sports. He had a very good sense of humor. He was the type of guy that I never heard use profanity of any nature toward anybody. He was a fatherly figure to all the athletes who went through Washington. He wasn't a hard-nose, old-school coach. I was more in that direction than Coach Baker. I didn't learn it from him. I couldn't use some of those tactics today."] 

2. This could be a whole book, but what was high school football in the GIA like in the '50s and '60s? What was the quality of play, the challenges you faced? "During this time, players, coaches and fans faced numerous challenges because of segregation, inferior facilities and equipment and financial limitations. The burden of finding restaurants, hotels and bathroom facilities was ongoing because they were off limits to blacks during this time. These limitations had a lasting impact upon players, coaches and fans and resulted in increased anxiety, stress and depression. It was a difficult task to teach and coach players when these challenges occurred as we traveled throughout the state. Despite these challenges, we were able to train and develop exceptional athletes under these conditions, and the quality of play was exceptional. There were many times that we longed to play our white counterparts because we knew that we could compete with our athletes and that they were up to the challenge. We did have good support among the fans. Every football game that we played we had a packed house. Stadiums were not as large as they are today, but we had tremendous crowds even back to when I was playing. Washington used to play all over the South, and we had big crowds whether we went to play Howard in Chattanooga or Austin in Knoxville or Parker in Birmingham. Segregation was at its worst at the time. Black fans didn't have any place they could go other than black events, so they joined and supported us. I remember we played for the championship [in 1960] against Tompkins in Savannah. They had scouts from all the schools up north. I remember meeting Woody Hayes down there. They came down to see a boy named Roundtree for Tompkins. I had a couple of great running backs, too. They were twins named Smith. Those guys put on a show, Roundtree and the Smith boys.'' [Tompkins' star player was Jessie Roundtree. One of the Smith twins, Allen, went on to play for the Buffalo Bills. Tompkins won 20-13. Asked about other memorable GIA athletes, Williams named Walt Frazier of Howard, Mack Jones of Turner, Leon and Silas Jamison of Washington, Charles Bivens of Price, Willie Williams of Archer and Roy Stanley of Carver.] 

3. What was the transition like in 1966, when the GHSA opened its membership to the historically black schools? "Once integration occurred, we were given a unique opportunity to prove our ability to compete with our white counterparts and to show that we could compete despite the obstacles that we faced. People from both races were able to see that we were not treated as ghosts anymore because we had an opportunity to participate on the football field and in other sports. The transition was good, but we still had challenges. We wanted to transfer our [GIA] records to the GHSA, in particular those in track and field, but they wouldn't let us do it. They told us we didn't know how to keep time, and they couldn't believe our kids could run that fast. We had to throw out all our records and start over. The first meet we had, they soon found out we were for real. Those were things that motivated our kids. I remember our first [integrated football] game against Dykes. One side at Grady Stadium was packed with whites, the other side with blacks. They had police dogs and policemen on horses. They were afraid something would break out. But the white coaches did a great job with their kids, and we told ours we weren't going to ruin this with any kind of violence. [Turner won the game 33-7.] I remember getting a call from Jug Kell [head coach at George and later Grady]. We were friends. He asked me how do you coach quickness. I told him you can't coach that. It's innate. He said the only way he could beat us then was if we had some of y'all. We laughed about that. Sports helped move integration into a much smoother place." [The GHSA opened membership to historically black schools in 1966, and Atlanta's eight GIA schools - Archer, Carver, Harper, Howard, Price, South Fulton, Turner and Washington - were the first to join. Augusta and Savannah schools came in 1967, Columbus and Macon schools in 1968. The GIA existed through the 1969-70 academic year.] 

4. How close are you to high school football today, and what's your assessment of it? "I have remained a part of high school athletics for over 70 years. I officiated and coached high school football during the 1950s through the 1970s and have always followed high school sports. It has been a pleasure to observe young men develop into outstanding citizens in communities throughout the country. Even though I have retired now, I continue to follow the games on television, the computer and in person whenever possible. [Williams has attended two games in Atlanta this season.] It always amazes me to see how skillful athletics has become on this level. If there was anything that I could change about today's games, it would be discipline and the appearance of the players. Football is a game that teaches you about life. Good grooming plays an important role in a player's life after he has left the game. It is important for individuals to be well-groomed and disciplined in the tasks that will be taken when the player becomes an adult in the job market and raising a family. But Georgia's high school football program is in a very good position in 2019. Schools across the state are allocating more funds to upgrade the facilities, equipment, training and support of the student-athlete. Athletics and activities are a very integral part of student life along with academics in our schools and communities." 

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