On Dec. 31 at the All Nations Baptist Church in northeast D.C., we will celebrate Watch Night in a special way. This year, our pastor, Rev. Dr. James Coleman asks for this service to be another teaching opportunity. Pastor asks that we host an occasion to help each of us understand and know the real meaning of Watch Night. He wants us to know how and why it began back in 1862.
To achieve this goal, Pastor Coleman has invited experts to come in to teach us the historic details, including Wanda Williams, deputy freedom of information officer with the Office of General Counsel of the National Archives and Records Administration in College Park, Maryland. The Archives is an independent federal agency that preserves and make accessible vast amounts of government records dating back to the Revolutionary War period.
In this job, Williams is responsible for applying Freedom of Information and Privacy Act policies that determine public access to federal civilian, genealogy, foreign policy, immigration, law enforcement, military and presidential records.
She works with researchers and requesters from throughout the United States and abroad seeking access to U.S. historical documents. Williams spent several years with the Archives’ St. Louis office. There, her work earned her awards for spearheading public affairs projects to developing publications, a strong website presence, and public history lectures promoting exhibitions and lectures covered by C-SPAN’s American History Channel.
Williams earned her Bachelor of Arts in communications at Mississippi State University. Her thesis examined slavery and resistance to post-enslavement culture in the Western Hemisphere.
Before her career as an archivist/historian with the Archives, Williams spent 15 years as a broadcast journalist. She is the recipient of numerous awards for her work covering issues impacting communities of color in the Southern states. She launched her career at WCBI-TV in her hometown of Columbus, Mississippi, the mid-1990s, where she was the first African American to anchor a prime-time newscast.
Her work as a reporter resulted in awards from the Mississippi Associated Press Association for her series, “Death Behind Bars,” which examined the deaths of Black male inmates in county jails. As her career progressed, Williams’ assignments allowed her to cover former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush and former senator and secretary of state Hillary R. Clinton.
He career as a journalist has taken her throughout the Southeast with stints in the television news markets of Georgia and Tennessee before landing in Washington, D.C., where she worked with the C-SPAN network and the local ABC and NBC news affiliates. She has received numerous awards and community recognition for her volunteer work in communities where she was employed.
As an archivist and historian, she’s been the recipient of distinguished fellowships in her graduate studies examining U.S. foreign policy with Haiti and the greater Caribbean. These fellowships have taken her to Haiti, Miami, and London, England, where she’s lectured, studied the Haitian language and examined the impact of U.S. foreign policy following Haiti’s 2010 earthquake.
Williams is a member of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, Historians of U.S. Foreign Policy, the Yale Center for the Study of Slavery and Resistance, the American Society of Access Professionals, the Mid-Atlantic Archives Conference, and other related organizations.
Happy New Year to all!
Lyndia Grant is a speaker/writer living in the D.C. area. Her radio show, “Think on These Things,” airs Fridays at 6 p.m. on 1340 AM (WYCB), a Radio One station. To reach Grant, visit her website, www.lyndiagrant.com, email email@example.com or call 240-602-6295. Follow her on Twitter @LyndiaGrant and on Facebook.