12.2 Wyman L. Williams (1902-1986), University of South Carolina

I joined the Mathematical Association of America in the fall of 1924 and attended the first meeting of the Southeastern Section at Phillips High School in Birmingham in the spring of 1925. I have attended almost all of the meetings of the Southeastern Section since that time and have been asked to write briefly about some of my reminiscences of the Section.

In the early years of the sectional meetings, the banquets were the highlight of the program. The food was usually good, the fellowship around the table was always most enjoyable, and the speakers for these occasions were, for the most part, outstanding. Then, one year, there was no mention of a banquet. I wondered why. I was told the reason was that the administration of the host institution was afraid that some blacks would attend if there was an announced banquet. I am sure that the institution took this action reluctantly. But those were the days when the segregation-integration issue was beginning to heat up.

In 1960, when the meeting of the Section was at the University of South Carolina, I had to move all of the meetings, including the banquet, away from the campus to a local hotel. This was done so that if any blacks showed up, the hotel, not the University, would have to handle the matter.

This reminds me of an experience I had while a graduate student at the University of Chicago, which I entered for the first time in the summer of 1925. One of the social highlights of the summer quarter was a banquet sponsored by the Department of Mathematics for its students. After attending several of these, they were suddenly dropped. When I inquired, I was told that two blacks were present at the last one.

I mention this incident at Chicago to show that the race problem was never confined to our territory. Let us be grateful that we no longer have to contend with this problem.

One more word about banquets. In 1948, we met in Charleston at The Citadel, where General Mark Clark was President at that time. I have heard about the great Roman feasts of centuries ago, but none of them could have come up to the one the General had for the Southeastern Section when it met on his campus. After we had eaten what we thought was a full meal, the real meal began to come. There was every kind of meat one could name. The salads and vegetables were numerous. The desserts looked like a display in a fancy delicatessen. The cost? Compliments of the General.

Let me close by changing from banquets to people. The Southeastern Section is regarded by the national organization as one of the best sections in the country. We have achieved this distinction by the leadership we have had over the years. As I think back over these years, many names and faces come before me of those who have made outstanding contributions to our success, but space will allow me to mention only one--Henry A. Robinson.

I remember Henry, not only as a highly efficient Secretary to the Section for twenty-six years, but as a Christian gentleman of the highest order. He was a quiet and unassuming man, possibly timid to some extent. When he retired from being Secretary, it was my pleasure to present him with a silver platter from the Section. I do not recall that he made any response to my remarks. This was not because of any lack of appreciation for the gift; it was just his quiet nature. Henry Robinson was a good man.