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A pioneer: Raphu Salathiel Williams

Charlayne W. Thompkins | 3/6/2014, 9 a.m.
Is it better to concentrate on the positive and leave the negative behind? I say no, for so much good ...
Williams Ambulance Service. The first Black-owned ambulance company that provided services in Miami-Dade County with a fleet of over 50 ambulances.

Is it better to concentrate on the positive and leave the negative behind?  I say no, for so much good can come out of negative situations, such as documented proof of the refusal to have a mind set of "less than" during an

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Williams Ambulance Service. The first Black-owned ambulance company that provided services in Miami-Dade County with a fleet of over 50 ambulances.

era so determined to confine Black people.  Hopefully, the young and old will be influenced by the strength of mind and Williams’ family values that allowed us to know deep in our hearts that ‘All of We is One.’ 

Below is the essence of joys and struggles of a day in the life of Raphu Williams while living in Miami.  By the way, Raphu’s brothers and cousins have similar stories that make us all proud.

Raphu Salathiel Williams was born in Nassau, Bahamas in 1913. He was the oldest son of ten surviving children born to Randolph and Caroline Williams.

He came to Florida in 1920, attended school in George Washington Graded and High School (now Douglas Elementary) from grades 1-8. He and his dear friend, Judge John D. Johnson, one of the first Black judges in

Miami, started school together in first grade.  From there he attended Dunbar High School in grades 7-10. 

Raphu and his classmates were excited about the building of a new school that was to be named after a Black man, Booker T. Washington. But they had to wait to move in. The school was bombed in Sept. of 1926. The whites thought the school was too close to them and then came a hurricane that also damaged the new school. 

Finally, in Feb. of 1927, Raphu and his classmates were able to move into their new school. He graduated along with his first grade classmates in 1933 from Booker T. Washington High Senior High School. BTW still stands and is a source of pride in the African-American community to this day.

Upon graduation Raphu enrolled in Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. He was a member of the band and became a life-time member of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity.  There is a book written by Dr. Cleveland W. Eneas, ( a well known dentist in the Bahamas) entitled Tuskegee, Ra!Ra! with an entire chapter on “Travels with Raphu” in the 1930’s. The book captures the essence and sometimes hilarious ingenuity of Williams, long before Charlayne W. Thompkins second oldest daughter was born.

After graduating from college in 1937, he pursued many endeavors.  These endeavors are also documented in the April 19, 1958 and May 24, 1958 Miami Times newspaper articles  and a book written by Seth H. Bramson and Bob Jensen entitled, “Homestead Florida, From Railroad Boom to Sonic Boom”. 

As an educator, he taught at all levels, and served as the first Black principal of A. L. Lewis Elementary in Homestead. He started the free lunch program because he felt children could not learn if they were hungry.  This program remains today in the Miami-Dade County School System. 

As an entrepreneur, he established the Williams Ambulance Service. The first Black-owned ambulance company that provided services in Miami-Dade County with a fleet of over 50 ambulances. He employed both Blacks and whites.  The process of opening your own business changed for Raphu. He was required to bid for a contract to provide the same ambulance services he had been giving to Dade County and was denied the contract because segregation minded decision makers were not going to allow contracts to be entered into with Black owners.  The family was told that a 99 year contract was awarded to the white-owned company Randle-Eastern in an effort to prevent a Black man from ever providing such a service to the County.