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Rev. Cecil Williams, Glide Memorial Church co-founder and San Francisco leader, dies at 94

Remembering Rev. Cecil Williams: A San Francisco leader and champion for social justice
Remembering Rev. Cecil Williams: A San Francisco leader and champion for social justice 04:36

Reverend Cecil Williams, who co-founded Glide Memorial Church and dedicated his life to San Francisco's underserved community, died Monday at the age of 94.

The Glide Foundation said he died surrounded by friends and family at his San Francisco home.

KPIX Archive: Belva Davis interviews Rev. Cecil Williams in 1971 05:04

"We have lost an incomparable champion of social justice, civil and human rights, and liberation theology," Glide said.

In a statement, San Francisco Mayor London Breed described Williams as the "conscience of San Francisco community."

"Growing up, there were members of the African-American community that inspired us to dream, and to serve, and Cecil Williams was at the top of that list. Cecil mentored generations of San Francisco leaders, many of us emerging from the most difficult circumstances," Breed said.

Governor Gavin Newsom also issued a statement following the news of Williams passing.

"Jennifer and I join all Californians in mourning the passing of Reverend Cecil Williams, a visionary leader whose legendary compassion and love for his community transformed the lives of people from all walks of life," Newsom said. "At the helm of Glide Memorial Church for decades, Reverend Williams and his congregation offered refuge and support to all who entered their doors. Their tireless work to empower marginalized members of the community put them at the forefront of key social justice and human rights issues, driving positive change."
"Reverend Williams truly embodied the California values of unity, generosity and acceptance. All of us can take inspiration from his legacy and renew our commitment to one another," he added.

KPIX Archive: Rev. Cecil Williams interviews activist Angela Davis, Part 1 16:03

Williams and Janice Mirikitani co-founded Glide Memorial Church in 1963. They would marry in 1982, and she became the president of the Glide Foundation that same year. She was a writer, poet and editor, writing a number of books and becoming San Francisco's second poet laureate in 2000.

Mirikitani died in 2021 at the age of 80.

"Whenever I went to Glide it was Cecil and Jan," Breed told KPIX in 2021. "Whenever there was any interaction, it was the two of them and she loved him so much. She had a way of making you feel like you were important to her. Especially because she genuinely cared about what was happening in your life. She cared about including people and she cared about feeding people and supporting people and lifting people up with her words of wisdom but also her poetry." 

Williams oversaw multiple community outreach projects to hundreds of thousands of impoverished residents for over six decades. The church's massive Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners provided to anyone that wanted or needed one, along with day-to-day outreach and support that valued peoples' dignity and humanity.     

Though Williams retired as pastor in 2000, Glide continued its decades-long outreach to the poor and hungry.

During the early 1970s, Williams was also the host of the community program "Vibrations" that aired on KPIX. 

In 2013, the corner of Ellis and Taylor streets in San Francisco were named after Williams to recognize his efforts for the underserved community — The intersection is located at Glide's main building at 330 Ellis St.

Then-San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee at the time said Williams had the "biggest heart in (the) city!"

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