First African-American Nittany Lion Varsity Basketball Player And Former PA State Senator Hardy Williams Passes

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Hardy Williams captained the 1951-52 Nittany Lions.

Hardy Williams captained the 1951-52 Nittany Lions.

Jan. 8, 2010

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa.; Jan. 8, 2010 - Former Nittany Lion basketball captain and Pennsylvania State Senator Hardy Williams (1951 & 1952) passed away at the age of 78 on Thursday from complications of Alzheimer's disease.

Williams was the first African-American varsity basketball player ever for the Nittany Lions and was a captain for the 1951-52 Nittany Lion team, which posted a 20-6 record under coach Elmer Gross and earned Penn State's second-ever NCAA Tournament bid. The Nittany Lions lost in the first-round of the 1952 NCAA Tournament to No. 1 ranked and defending NCAA Champion Kentucky under Adolph Rupp. Rupp's team was segregated at the time and did not play the following season due to a point-shaving scandal.

Williams averaged 8.4 ppg for the 1951-52 team which helped usher in a golden-era of Penn State basketball as the Nittany Lions and All-American Jesse Arnelle reached the NCAA Tournament in three of four seasons, including advancing to the 1954 NCAA Final Four and finishing No. 9 in the final Associated Press poll of that season. Penn State went 34-15 in the two season Williams was a starter as he averaged better than eight points per game.

Williams graduated in the top 20 of his 1952 graduating class at Penn State, where he was president of the Pi Lambda Sigma pre-law honorary society. After two years as an Air Force lieutenant, with service in South Korea, he returned to graduate from the University of Pennsylvania Law School.

Williams went on to become a political powerhouse in Philadelphia helping found the Black Political Forum in 1967 and paving the way for the first black mayor of Philadelphia. Williams was known as the "godfather of black independent politics in Philadelphia" as he challenged the city's political establishment and became the first viable African-American political candidate in the city, running twice for mayor.

Current Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell credits Williams as a big factor in his election as Philadelphia mayor in 1991 and later as the governor of Pennsylvania. Williams was elected in his own right winning selection as a state representative from 1971-73 and from 1977-82. He joined the state senate the following year, and retired in 1998 when his son, Anthony H. Williams, won election to his seat, which he has held since.

 

 

W. Wilson Goode, Philadelphia's first African-American mayor, said he credited Williams for the fact that today, the city's mayor, district attorney, police commissioner and school superintendent are African-Americans.

Information from a Philadelphia Inquirer story by Jeff Shields, Walter F. Naedele and Mario F. Cattabiani was used for this story.

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