Emmett Williams was born Emmett Ardie Williams, Jr., in Washington, D.C. The son of Emmett Williams, Sr. who served in the Navy in WWII and The Korean War, his mother was a Registered Nurse. The family moved frequently after his father’s death. Emmett, Jr. was age 7. They moved to Columbus, Ohio his father’s birthplace, and then finally back to D.C.
After becoming a ward of the Foster care system in Ohio he endured abuse. He sold comic books and his own comic book drawings to finance departure. He located his mother and they had a meeting with the foster family and Children’s Services.
At age 13 Williams prepared for the meeting by charting his 7 month ordeal visually, after analyzing a handicap symbol he saw in a public restroom. With only a couple of hours to prepare he broke down 7 months of abuse at the home in cubist-abstract images in stark black lines on bright white poster boards, which included brutal beatings, strangulation, daily verbal abuse, public torture in church by being impaled with pins, and waking up while being smothered with pillows.
Earlier in his life he was placed in Junior Village the overcrowded orphanage in Washington DC, twice. Once at age 4, and later at age 5.
The children of the orphanage were taken to The White House on buses to see the Wizard of Oz and have a Christmas dinner. Emmett met Tricia and Julie the Nixon daughters, trading Tricia a drawing he did of her shoes after negotiating a shrewd deal with her for candy.
Williams later returned to the Junior Village orphanage in his 20’s, it had been renamed to DC Village, and repurposed as a retirement home for the elderly.
He donated a series of murals for the residents in a beautification project. Initially they asked him to paint a reproduction of Henry O. Tanner’s “The Banjo Lesson”. After completing the section they offered him the rest of the wall, and he created images of more children listening to the left and right as the Tanner figures perform.
Then he was asked to create a mural of The Howard Theatre a DC theatre no longer in use by the late ’80’s. Since Williams painting a 15′ mural of it for the residents of DC Village in later years it has been restored, it’s history beginning in 1910.
The DC Village residents watched him work and dictated the style of dress they remembered when they frequented it decades before.
The final project for DC Village came in the form of a commission from the DC Government. He was commissioned to paint DC Choreographer Liz Lerman, and her Dancers of the Third Age. A large mural on plywood, he painted it in the impressionist style. It was later selected by a guest curator from the National Portrait Gallery, to be exhibited at The Library for the Arts, housed in the Martin Luther King Library. The Library for the Arts is the place where he and Harlem Renaissance painter Georgette Seabrooke Powell of Tomorrow’s World Art Center exhibited regularly. Seabrooke-Powell commissioned Williams to paint her event ‘’Art in The Park” live in 1989.
Upon learning of his engagement, Georgette Seabrooke Powell walked with him over to DC Arts and instructed an Administrator to find him a job, while they waited. A temporary position as mail-room clerk was found at The National Museum for Women in the Arts. The position was for several weeks, but Williams, completed the back orders in 10 days, and was offered full time employment at the museum. Later Williams was tapped by the museum’s Director to organize the 1st Annual Staff/Volunteer Art Show for the NMWA.