Wesley Williams photograph collection

Collection Data

The Wesley Williams Photograph Collection depicts aspects of his personal life, and his professional career as a fire fighter, from the late 1800s to the 1980s. The collection includes individual and group portraits, candid shots and snapshots of Williams, his immediate and extended family, friends, and professional colleagues and associates. Also depicted are views of organizational gatherings, awards ceremonies and presentations, family gatherings and trips, body building contestants, sports teams, and towns and landscapes. The personal photographs series includes a studio portrait of Williams wearing his first Police Athletic League medal (1907); in a group portrait with his eighth grade graduation class (ca. 1910); in a group portrait with the Williamsbridge championship basketball team (ca. 1910); as a mail carrier posing with a United States Mail delivery truck (ca. 1915); in a series of studio and candid shots of body building poses (1916-1920s); in snapshots with daughter Margaret (ca. 1920s); and in a candid shot with grandchildren (late 1970s). Depicted in snapshots and portraits (ca. 1900-1970s) are Williams's maternal grandparents, the Metrashs; his father, James H. Williams, who was the Chief Attendant of the Red Caps in New York's Grand Central Terminal; his mother, Lucy Williams; his siblings, Gertrude, Pierre, Catherine and Edith; and two of his children, Margaret and Charles. The series includes a group of snapshots and portraits (ca. 1910s-1930s) depicting Williams with family and friends in various gatherings; trips to East Norwalk, Connecticut, Throgs Neck, Bronx, and unidentified locations; body building poses; and unidentified residences and landscapes. The professional activities series includes a studio portrait of Williams in uniform after his appointment to the New York City Fire Department (1919); group portraits of Williams with fellow fire fighters of Engine Company No. 55 (ca. 1922); a studio portrait of Williams after his appointment as Lieutenant (1927); a photo montage of the officers and members of Engine Company No. 55 (1938); in a group portrait presenting checks, with Judge Francis Rivers, to New York Giants baseball players Monte Irvin and Willie Mays and manager Leo Durocher (early 1950s); an undated view of him leading the Vulcan Society during a parade in Harlem; views from his testimonial dinner, upon his retirement from the N.Y. Fire Department, at the Concourse Plaza Hotel, in the Bronx, with New York City Mayor Vincent Impellitteri, Fire Commissioner Jacob Grumet, Judge Hubert T. Delany and activist Mary McLeod Bethune in attendance (1952); and receiving the Leadership Award from the Federation of Negro Civil Service Organizations from New York City Fire Commissioner Edward Cavanaugh with Federation Vice President Robert O. Lowery present (ca. 1950s). The professional gatherings and awards ceremonies series includes several group portraits of Williams presenting awards and citations from the Vulcan Society, a black fire fighters organization co-founded by Williams in 1940, to various fire fighters (ca. 1940s-1960s); with New York State Attorney General Louis Lefkowitz, labor leader A. Philip Randolph and Hubert T. Delany, at the Federation of Negro Civil Service Organizations Luncheon (1961); in group portraits with Lt. Robert O. Lowery at the time of Lowery's appointment as 3rd Deputy Fire Commissioner (1963); with Duputy Fire Commissioner Lowery and Battalion Chief Dudley Glasse congratulaing future New York City fire commissioner Augustus Beekman on his appointment as battalion chief (1963); in views from the Conference of Black Professional Fire Fighters, Hotel Commodore, New York (1969); and in group portraits, that include Georgia state senator Julian Bond, Fire Commissioner Beekman and Robert O. Lowery, from the 40th Anniversary Dinner of the Vulcan Society at the Sheraton Centre, New York (1980). The series also depicts some events that Williams did not attend, including a trophy presentation by New York City Mayor William O'Dwyer to Parole Commissioner Samuel Battle for the Sydenham Hospital Benefit Games (1948); and a view of Robert O. Lowery, then the first African-American New York City Fire Commisssioner, and Mayor John V. Lindsay at a ribbon cutting ceremony (1966). Others attending functions or presentations depicted include New York City Mayor Robert F. Wagner, boxer Sugar Ray Robinson, Congressman Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., Manhattan Borough Presidents Hulan Jack and Percy Sutton, and New York judges James Watson and Constance Baker Motley. Also noted are group portraits of Chief Attendant James H. Williams with New York City Mayor Jimmy Walker (ca. 1930), and Wesley and James Williams meeting boxer Joe Louis and his trainer Julian Black at Louis's training ring (1939).
Layne, Cecil (Photographer)
Dates / Origin
Date Created: 1910 - 1981 (Questionable)
Library locations
Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Photographs and Prints Division
Shelf locator: Sc Photo Wesley A. Williams Collection
Williams, Wesley A., 1896-1984
African American fire fighters
Biographical/historical: Wesley A. Williams, New York City fire fighter and official, was born in New York in 1896. His father was James H. Williams who served as the Chief Attendant of the Red Caps at Grand Central Terminal for 45 years. Wesley, who was raised and educated in New York, was an amateur body builder who, by age 18, had become the National Amateur Weight-lifting champ. In 1919, he became the first and, at the time, the only African-American appointed as a fire fighter to the New York City Fire Department, as well as the second man to ever enter the Fire Department with a 100 percent physical fitness rating. He was assigned to Engine Company No. 55 in Manhattan's Lower East Side, and ascended the ranks to lieutenant (1927), captain (1934) and battalion chief (1938). He finished out his service as battalion chief of the 15th Fire Battalion until job-related injuries forced his retirement in 1952. He also co-founded and organized the Vulcan Society in 1940, a black fire fighters fraternal organization to help improve working conditions for fire fighters. Williams, who had four children and had married and outlived three wives, died in 1984 in Queens, New York.
Physical Description
Extent: 497 items (1.3 lin. ft., 5 boxes) 94 photographic prints : silver gelatin, b&w, some hand-col. ; 32 x 21 cm. and smaller. 111 photographic prints : silver gelatin, b&w ; 26 x 31 cm. and smaller. 77 photographic prints : silver gelatin, b&w ; 13 x 18 cm. and smaller. 167 photographic prints : silver gelatin, b&w, some hand-col. ; 15 x 9 cm. and smaller. 17 photographic prints : col. ; 15 x 10 cm. and smaller. 14 photographic prints : col. ; 9 x 13 and smaller. 11 photographic postcards : b&w ; 14 x 9 cm. and smaller. 4 polaroid prints : b&w, one col. ; 9 x 11 and smaller. 1 photomechanical print : halftone, b&w ; 14 x 7 cm. 1 drawing : b&w, pen and ink ; 26 x 18 cm.
Type of Resource
Still image
NYPL catalog ID (B-number): b14983863
Universal Unique Identifier (UUID): 655447e0-32b9-0132-09f6-58d385a7b928
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