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Sidney B. Williams Jr. was a pioneering African-American athlete as well as an accomplished businessman and attorney. The first black man to quarterback a Big Ten team when he was at the University of Wisconsin, he later combined his training in chemical engineering with a law degree to become a leading patent attorney.
Sidney Banks Williams Jr. was born on December 31, 1935, in Little Rock (Pulaski County) to Sidney B. Williams Sr. and Eloise Gay Williams. He grew up in Little Rock as the only child in a single-parent household, being raised by his mother. Williams graduated from Dunbar High School in 1954. At Dunbar, he was president of the senior class and also starred in football, basketball, and track, earning All-State honors in both football and basketball.
Receiving a number of scholarship offers, Williams accepted an academic-athletic scholarship to attend the University of Wisconsin, attracted by its highly regarded engineering program. After a year on the freshman football squad, he spent his sophomore year on the bench for the varsity. Finally, in 1956, as a junior, he earned a spot in the team’s defensive backfield. Struggling to turn around a team mired with a 1–5–1 record, head coach Milt Bruhn tasked Williams with improving the offense. As the first African American to start for a Big Ten team, Williams led the Wisconsin squad to a pair of 13–13 ties against Illinois and Minnesota. In 1957 and 1958, he led Wisconsin to a 13–4–1 record, including 7–1–1 as a senior, with the only loss coming against the Rose Bowl Champion Iowa Hawkeyes.
In 1959 and 1960, Williams pursued a professional career, first with the New York Jets of the American Football League and then with the Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football League, but injuries limited those efforts. He returned to Wisconsin, completing his degree in 1961. After graduation, Williams worked as a research and development engineer for General American Transportation Company of East Chicago, Indiana. In 1963, he moved to Washington DC to become a patent examiner for the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. During this same period, he attended George Washington University Law School, earning his degree in 1967.
He took a job at Upjohn Company, where over the course of twenty-nine years he served in an array of legal and administrative position, culminating in his role as executive director of domestic patents and worldwide trademark operations. He became recognized for his expertise in pharmaceutical intellectual property law, as well as in the protection of plants under the Plant Patent and Plant Variety Protection Acts. Six times during the 1980s Williams served as a member of the U.S. delegations to the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants. Too, he served as an officer and committee chair of the Intellectual Property Section of the American Bar Association, the American Intellectual Property Law Association, and the National Council of Intellectual Property Law Associations. In addition, from 1987 to 1988, Williams served as president of the National Inventors Hall of Fame. Following his retirement from Upjohn in 1995, Williams joined the Kalamazoo, Michigan, law firm of Flynn, Thiel, Boutell & Tanis, PC, where he later became “of counsel.”
Williams was an active alumnus of the University of Wisconsin. He served on the board of directors of the University of Wisconsin Foundation, and also on the advisory board of the College of Engineering. In 1994, he was honored with the University’s Distinguished Alumnus Award.
Sidney B. Williams and his wife, attorney Carolyn Hickson, live in Kalamazoo and have two grown sons.
For additional information:
“Attorney Profiles: Sidney B. Williams.” Flynn, Thiel, Boutell & Tanis PC. http://www.flynnthiel.com/attorney-williams.php (accessed June 12, 2018).
“Engineering a Change for the Better—Sidney Williams—Wisconsin Football.” Big 10. http://www.bigten.org/genrel/013107aag.html (accessed June 12, 2018).
Murphy, Madeline Wheeler. “Engineer Profile: Sidney B. Williams.” US Black Engineer, Conference Issue 1987, p. 46.
William H. Pruden III
Last Updated 6/12/2018
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