ROBERT LEE WILLIAMS was born in Brundidge, Alabama and graduated from Southern University, after which he taught briefly and then studied law privately. He practiced law in Troy, Alabama before moving to Guthrie, Oklahoma in 1893. He then returned to Alabama and entered the Methodist ministry before moving to and settling in Oklahoma permanently. He served on the Democratic National Committee from 1904 to 1908 and was a member of the Oklahoma Constitutional Convention of 1906. He went on to win election as Chief Justice of the Oklahoma Supreme Court, serving from 1907 until 1914, when he resigned to run for governor. During Williams’ gubernatorial term, the number of state agencies was reduced, the State Board of Affairs was created, and the new Capitol opened in Oklahoma City. Williams raised taxes, reduced appropriations, and closed several state institutions. In 1915, the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of Guinn v. United States, declared unconstitutional Oklahoma’s “Grandfather Clause”—a provision in the state Constitution designed to disenfranchise black voters by exempting the lineal descendents of voters prior to the Civil War from strict voting requirements. In response, Williams called a special session of the state legislature that adopted a new registration law designed to handicap black voters. William also quashed the “Green Corn Rebellion” led by Oklahomans who opposed the World War I draft. After leaving office, he served as a U.S. Justice for the Eastern District of Oklahoma from 1919 to 1937, a U.S. Circuit Judge of the Tenth Circuit Court from 1937 to 1939, and President of the Oklahoma Historical Society from 1938 to 1948.
The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography, Vol. 14. New York: James T. White & Company.
Sobel, Robert, and John Raimo, eds. Biographical Directory of the Governors of the United States, 1789-1978, Vol. 3. Westport, CT: Meckler Books, 1978. 4 vols.