Hattie Kay Williams

The children of Hattie Kay Williams (1922-1990) attended Oakenwald Elementary School on Chicago’s South Side during the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. There were both black and white students at this school but they were segregated from each other—the white children went to school in the morning; the black students went to school in the afternoons. As the student population increased, the school was not enlarged to provide additional classrooms, nor were black students allowed to transfer to uncrowded white schools. Instead, trailers were used as extra classrooms. Better known as “Willis Wagons” (named after Chicago's  school superintendent), the trailers were not well received by teachers, students and their parents. Williams organized protests rallies at Oakenwald and at other South Side schools. She got the ear of nationally syndicated advice columnist Ann Landers who helped spread the word about Chicago’s South Side schools. As the number of protestors grew (which included a young University of Chicago student named Bernie Sanders), the issues of segregation in Chicago Public Schools and education inequity came to the forefront.

Williams went on to earn a degree in social work, developed one of the first Head Start programs in Chicago, was a community representative on the Chicago Board of Education, worked for the Welfare Council of Metropolitan Chicago and wrote columns for the Chicago Sun-Times.

Why this stop? The Green Line 43rd Street stop serves the Oakland neighborhood where Williams lived and where Oakenwald Elementary School was located.

Learn more about Willis Wagons, segregation in Chicago Public Schools and the protests of the 1960’s.