Edessa Mullins Williams was born June 27, 1911 in Harris County, Georgia to Adam and Marie (O’Neill) Mullins. She came to Ypsilanti in the 1940s where she became a member of Brown Chapel AME and was an active member of the rich community of Black women’s social clubs in the city. Mrs. Mullins died on February 19, 2004 at the age of 92.
Edessa Mullins Williams Interview, c. 1981
Ruthe Marshall, Interviewer
(Note: The original tape of this oral history interview is missing. This transcript is a copy of A. P. Marshall’s transcript of the interview. Thus, we cannot verify the accuracy of these transcriptions. Our historians have divided it into annotated segments.)
“Edessa Williams: Leader of Ypsilanti African-American Women’s Clubs”
Synopsis: Mrs. Marshall and Mrs. Williams briefly discuss the Edessa’s family history and her arrival in Michigan. The bulk of this short conversation centers on the many roles Mrs. Williams played in Ypsilanti’s myriad of Black women’s social clubs.
Keywords: Catula, Georgia; Harris County Georgia; Edessa Williams; Adam Mullins; Jule Mullins Spike; Glenn Mullins; Jessie Mullins; Rudis Mullins; Ypsilanti, Michigan; Willie Williams; Brown Chapel AME; Great Migration; Ford Motor Company; Integra Wonder Club; Social Ten Club; Black women social clubs; Ruth Chapter #2, Order of the Eastern Star; Gertrude Francois; Lucille Richardson; Genevieve Williams; Otella Cramer; Eleuth Martin; Bessie Stark; Ulyssa Edward; Dick Williams; Harris Street; Al Ashraf Temple; Gladys Bentum; Prince Hall Masons; Good Samaritan Hall; Buffalo Street; South Adams Street; Hamilton Street; Katherine Collins; Daughters of Isis; Shriner’s Hospital; Rosie Wright;
Subjects: African American families. African American churches. African Americans–Social lives and customs.
MARSHALL: What town were you born in?
WILLIAMS: Harris County, Georgia. Catula—it’s a country town.
MARSHALL: What was your father’s name?
WILLIAMS: Adam Mullins.
MARSHALL: How many brothers and sisters did you have?
WILLIAMS: I had three brothers and one sister.
MARSHALL: Your sister’s name is Jule. What are your brother’s names?
WILLIAMS: Glenn, Jessie, and Rudis Mullins.
MARSHALL: Where do they live?
WILLIAMS: Jessie still lives in Georgia. Glenn lives in Ypsilanti and Jule Ann Spike lives in Ypsilanti too. Of course, there were two brothers that passed.
MARSHALL: Can you tell me about your marriage?
WILLIAMS: I married Willie Williams in 1946.
MARSHALL: When did you move to Ypsilanti?
WILLIAMS: I moved to Ypsilanti in 1941.
MARSHALL: When did you join Brown Chapel?
WILLIAMS: I joined Brown Chapel in 1945.
MARSHALL: What kind of work have you done?
WILLIAMS: I worked at Ford Motor Company and I worked for a pediatrician in Ann Arbor.
MARSHALL: What other organizations besides the Lodge did you belong to in Ypsilanti?
WILLIAMS: The first club I joined here was Integra Wonder, which is just hanging on now. I also joined the Social Ten Club.
MARSHALL: The Social Ten is a pretty active club now, isn’t it?
WILLIAMS: It was really active when I first joined, but so many of the older members passed.
MARSHALL: How about the lodges?
WILLIAMS: Ruth, Chapter #2, O.E.S. (Order of the Eastern Star), 1947.
MARSHALL: Can you tell us something about the early history of the chapter here in Ypsilanti?
WILLIAMS: The nearest records that I could find were some time before December, 1912.
MARSHALL: Can you tell me some of the things that you did here for the community?
WILLIAMS: I was a matron of Ruth Chapter in 1958 and 1959.
MARSHALL: What were some of the things that the group did?
WILLIAMS: We raise money for a scholarship every year, but when we get through, we combine it with the other chapters in the state. They usually send two or three out of state every year. It’s a whole scholarship for all through the year.
MARSHALL: For all four years?
MARSHALL: Have any young people in Ypsilanti ever won this scholarship?
WILLIAMS: Yes they have. I’m not sure where Gertrude Francois went but it was set up for her. I don’t know exactly how many there were. I know that there have been two or three since I’ve been in Chapter that have received the scholarship.
MARSHALL: Can you tell me some of the older people that were in the early history of the chapter?
WILLIAMS: Eleuth Martins was in there when they organized. Mrs. Davis (San Davis’ mother), Lucille Richison, Genevieve Williams, and Otella Cramer also belonged. Ethel Williams got to be head of the Grand Chapter of the state of Michigan. Bessie Stark was a Prince Hall Grand Chapter matron. Ulyssa Edwards held Grand Office and was International Grand Office.
MARSHALL: Did she have an official title?
WILLIAMS: In the International, she was just appointed.
MARSHALL: Is Ethel Williams related to someone around here?
WILLIAMS: Dick Williams. She lives out on Whitaker, but she’s sick now. She lived on Harris Street until she was unable to care for herself. Her husband is a member of Luke, Chapter #2.
MARSHALL: Can you tell us about Willie’s affiliation with the Lodge?
WILLIAMS: He was never a patron, but he was a member of Al Ashraf Temple when they set it up.
MARSHALL: Was that Eastern Star too?
WILLIAMS: No. He was a member of St. Andrews Lodge, #7. You had to have a husband, father, or brother (affiliated relatives) as a masonic to become Eastern Star.
MARSHALL: I know that you have some property. When was it bought and what services has it done?
WILLIAMS: There used to be a lot on the corner of Hamilton and Buffalo. They bought the lot from one of the old member’s mother. At that time, the Masonic Hall was facing Buffalo. They turned it around to face Hamilton. That was in the late 1940s.
MARSHALL: Is that the building where they are now?
WILLIAMS: That’s the present building.
MARSHALL: Isn’t that on Adams?
WILLIAMS: Yes. It faces Adams. It was facing Buffalo when I came here. Sometime in the 1940s, they turned it around. Gladys Bentum, who was her mother, gave that lot to the masons. There are so many stations that you have to be placed before you get to the east. There’s conductors, associate conductorship, associate matron, and matron. I served as matron for three years—1957, 1958, and 1959. Katherine Collins was a matron for us in 1960. In 1961, I was elected back for two years. In 1968, I went back again as matron. I have also served in the Grand Chapter as Grand Appoint on the Star Marshall in the east. We also had a team which was the Grand Marshall Team.
MARSHALL: When you speak of Grand Chapter, do you mean on the national level?
WILLIAMS: No, on the state level. At the present time, I am the matron of Guild #3, which is part of Eastern Star. It’s a different body. I am Princess Katherine of Ypsilanti guild #3. I am the Grand Seminole of Prince Hall, Grand Guild for the state of Michigan.
MARSHALL: Is the Daughters of Isis the Auxiliary to the Finess?
MARSHALL: Are you a member of that?
WILLIAMS: Yes. I’ve served in all the offices including Ulysses Commandress, which is the highest office in a local chapter. I’ve served as Deputy for Al Ashraf, Court #7 of which I am a member (Imperial Deputy of Al Ashraf, Court #7). There’s an auxiliary to the Al Ashraf Temple. The women’s is a court and the men’s is a temple.
MARSHALL: Do you meet together?
WILLIAMS: No. We’re two separate bodies.
MARSHALL: When you speak of the Shriner’s Hospital located all over the country for crippled children, are the black Shrine groups of Masonic bodies associated with that?
WILLIAMS: I don’t think so.
MARSHALL: Can you tell me some of the people that head up these bodies?
WILLIAMS: Daughter Rosie Wright is the Imperial Deputy for the state of Michigan. She installed and instructs all the courts in Michigan. She is elected by the Imperial Commanders (the national commanders; she;’s over all the chapters in the United States. We have three courts in our chapter out of the United States).
MARSHALL: Did the lodges have any newspapers?
WILLIAMS: Yes. The Pyramid comes out every month.