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The University of Iowa Libraries

Guide to the Verda Williams papers

Collection Overview

Date Span: 1969-2004
Creator: Williams, Verda (1944-)
Extent: 10.00 linear inches.
Collection Number: IWA0137
Repository: Iowa Women's Archives
Summary: Communication specialist at Iowa State University who produced the documentary Black Des Moines: Voices Seldom Heard.

Alternate Extent Statement: 24 audiocassettes [AC359, 377-399]
3 videocassettes [V06, V136-V142]
12 record albums
9 DVDs [d0010, d0019-d0026]

Access: The papers are open for research.

Use: Copyright of a portion of these materials has been retained by Iowa State University. Iowa State University grants a right to any person to use or reproduce materials for a non-commercial purpose as long as any copy includes acknowledgement of Iowa State University's ownership of copyright, and Williams's authorship of the works.

Acquisition: The papers (donor no. 344) were donated by Verda L. Williams in 1996 and succeeding years.

Preferred Citation: Verda Williams papers, Iowa Women's Archives, The University of Iowa Libraries, Iowa City.

Repository: Iowa Women's Archives
Address: 100 Main Library
University of Iowa Libraries
Iowa City, IA 52242
Phone: 319-335-5068
Curator: Kären Mason

Verda L. Williams, video communications specialist at the Iowa State University Extension Service (Ames), was born in Des Moines, Iowa on October 13, 1944. She graduated from Roosevelt High School in 1962, attended Morgan State College and the University of Minnesota, and graduated with a B.A. from Drake University in 1966 and an M.A. from Iowa State University in 1987.

An aspiring actress, Williams was denied leading roles in high school and at Drake University because she was black. Determined to pursue her interest in theater, however, she majored in journalism with an emphasis on radio and television production, a field in which she felt she would find less discrimination.

Throughout her career Williams has had wide-ranging experience as a writer and producer for radio, theater, and television productions. She has received much recognition and numerous awards for her work.

Starting in the mid-1960s as an announcer and interviewer for several Iowa radio stations, she later produced and wrote for the theater in Chicago and Des Moines. Working at NBC-TV in New York from 1970 to 1978 she produced and wrote many features, including "Positively Black," a one-hour, weekly public affairs program. After leaving NBC, Williams pursued a movie career. In 1979 she was the production office coordinator for a CBS-TV movie, "Hard Hat and Legs," and a production assistant for the feature film, Can't Stop the Music. When the demands of raising her daughter, Nova, and the long hours demanded for movie production became increasingly difficult to balance, Williams moved back to Des Moines in 1980.

As communications specialist for WOI-TV (Ames) she wrote, produced and hosted "Life Force," a monthly thirty-minute program (1981-1986) and two television specials, "Black Des Moines: Voices Seldom Heard" (1985) and "The Gift of Song" (1987). Each special received a National Continuing Education Award. Williams earned the United Press International Award for "Black Des Moines" as well. "Positively Black" was nominated for an Emmy Award in 1978. In 1998 she was one of six alumni honored by Drake University's School of Journalism and Mass Communication. Williams also wrote an unpublished book, "Rabbit," with singer Nona B. Hendryx in 1973.

The Verda L. Williams papers measure 1.2 linear feet and date from 1969 to 2004. They are arranged in six series: Biographical material, "Black Des Moines: Voices Seldom Heard," "Life Force," Video projects, Women's Studies, and Record albums.

The Biographical material series (1969-1998) includes background information on Williams as well as her poetry, materials on Buddhism, family photographs, and computer-generated photograph montages.

The series devoted to "Black Des Moines: Voices Seldom Heard" (1985-1986 and undated) includes tapes of in-depth interviews with twelve prominent black men and women living in Des Moines and short interviews with a number of black residents responding to the question "When you think of Des Moines what comes to mind?" Transcripts of some of these interviews are included.

The ""Life Force" series (1982-1985) comprises eleven of the scripts Williams wrote for the program and two videotapes.

The Video projects series (1972-1996) includes five videotapes of projects Williams directed and produced.

Williams's commentaries on films she produced and which were shown to a Women's Studies course at Iowa State University are included in the Women's Studies series (1986-1987). The notes reveal much about Williams's personal and professional experiences.

Eleven jazz and rhythm and blues records and a Delta Sigma Theta benefit album for which Williams served as consultant comprise the Record albums series (1966-1977). These few albums were part of a more extensive collection. Many of the albums are autographed by individuals whom she interviewed for "Positively Black" and were selected for retention for that reason.

One DVD, "Impeach Bush. It's the American thing to do," was compiled by Verda Williams prior to the 2004 presidential election.
Barbara M. Calderon papers (IWA):  Calderon was a surrogate aunt to Verda L. Williams. Some of the computer-generated montages in Williams' collection depict Calderon.
Dora E. Mackay papers (IWA):  Mackay is the aunt of Verda L. Williams.
Beverly George Everett papers (IWA):  Everett is featured in "The Gift of Song."
Catherine Gayle Williams (IWA): Williams was interviewed for the "Black Voices Seldom Heard" project.

Browse by Series:
Series 3: "LIFE FORCE"

  • Box 1:
  • General (2 folders) - 1969-1998
  • Awards [National Continuing Education Award, 1986, shelved in map case] - 1972-1996
  • Buddhism - 1984-1988
  • Correspondence: Personal - 1988-1997
  • Correspondence: Professional - 1979-1994
  • Poetry - 1965-1978
  • Photographs, computer-generated montages and a sketch [sketch shelved in map case] - 1971-1997
  • Box 1:
  • Videocassette [V06] - 1985
  • Script and descriptive essay - 1985-1986
  • Interviews, audiocassettes
  • James Bowman [AC377]
  • James Bowman [AC378]
  • Larry Carter [AC379]
  • Wesley Chapman [AC380]
  • Wesley Chapman [AC381]
  • Marguerite Cothorn [AC382]
  • Marguerite Cothorn [AC383]
  • Willie and Luther Glanton [AC384]
  • Edna Griffin [AC385]
  • Edna Griffin [AC386]
  • Emery Jackson [AC387]
  • Emery Jackson [AC388]
  • James Morris III [AC389]
  • Ako Samad (R. Minor) [AC390]
  • Meredith Saunders [AC391]
  • Catherine Williams [AC392]
  • Catherine Williams [AC393]
  • Catherine Williams [AC394]
  • Street interviews [AC395]
  • Street interviews [AC396]
  • Street interviews [AC397]
  • Street interviews [AC398]
  • Street interviews [AC399]
  • Interview transcriptions (2 folders)
  • Box 2:
  • "The Making of 'Black Des Moines'''
  • Audiocassette: Conversation with Verda Williams, Mary Beth Haralovich and Kathy Hickok [AC359]
  • Correspondence and related material - 1985-1986, 1990
  • Series 3: "LIFE FORCE"
  • Box 2:
  • Flyers - 1982-1986
  • Family Day Care, March 30 - 1982
  • Animal Welfare, December 28 - 1982
  • Helping Families Help Themselves, January 25 - 1983
  • Total Wellness, March 8 and March 29 - 1983
  • Years to Share, April 26 - 1983
  • 4-H Environmental Education, October 25 - 1983
  • Rural Employment, December 27 - 1983
  • Concerning Water, videocassette
  • Part I [V136] - 1984
  • Part II [V137] - 1984
  • Focus on Nutrition, March 27 - 1984
  • Continuing Education, December 4 - 1984
  • Boost for Small Business, January 29 - 1985
  • Families and Work, March 26 - 1985
  • Series 4: VIDEO PROJECTS
  • Box 2:
  • "Positively Black" - 1972-1977
  • "A Small Investment with Big Returns"
  • Background materials - 1993-1994
  • Videocassette, May [V138] - 1994
  • Box 3:
  • Minority student recruitment video, Iowa State University - 1987
  • "Gift of Song" [V139] - 1987
  • "No Closet," Jamie Anderson [V140] - 1992
  • "Thank You" [4-H Foundation Capital Campaign] [V141] - 1996
  • "Celebrating 4-H Through the Years" [V142] - 1996
  • "Impeach Bush. It's the American thing to do" - 2004
  • Letter
  • DVD
  • Series 5: WOMEN'S STUDIES
  • Box 3:
  • Women's studies - 1986-1987
  • Series 6: RECORD ALBUMS
  • Box 4:
  • Sonny Cox, The Wailer (Cadet) - 1966
  • The Velvet Underground and Nico (Verve) - 1967
  • Les McCann and Eddie Harris, Swiss Movement ( Atlantic) - 1969
  • Stairsteps, The Stairsteps (Buddah Records, Inc) - 1971
  • Bobbi Humphrey, Flute-In (Blue Note) - 1972
  • Laura Lee, Women's Love Rights (Hot War) - 1972
  • Bobbi Humphrey, Satin Doll (Blue Note) - 1974
  • DST Telecommunications, Inc., Kusini: Countdown at [soundtrack for film preview at Delta Sigma Theta convention, Seattle, August 6, collectors limited edition album] - 1975
  • Shirley Caesar, First Lady (United Artists) - 1977
  • Judy Gorman-Jacobs, If Dreams were Thunder (Iceberg Records) - 1985
  • The 21st Century, Ahead of Our Time (RCA, undated)
  • Herbie Hancock, Maiden Voyage (Blue Note, undated)