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UMM student to honor grandmother at convention

By Don Davis

St. Paul Capitol Bureau

ST. PAUL - Douglas Williams is headed to the Democratic National Convention in part to honor his grandmother.

In fact, the University of Minnesota Morris student said, he can go to Denver in part because of what his grandmother did.

"My grandmother led the fight to integrate schools in Suffolk, Va.," the first-time convention delegate said. "I am kind of dedicating this trip to her."

Without his grandmother, who died in 1997, and others fighting for equal rights, African-Americans like Williams would not be welcome at political conventions, he said.

"It was only through struggles of people like my grandmother that we no longer have to worry about such issues at the 2008 Democratic National Convention."

For Williams, being able to represent fellow students and minority Americans is important.

"I am very excited about it," said the student who graduates with a political science degree in December. "It is a good opportunity to represent young people. Not only that, but to represent my family."

Influenced by his grandmother's work, Williams hopes to eventually earn a doctorate in public policy and work on issues dealing with poverty and welfare.

Williams wants to put information he gains at the Denver convention to use right away.

"I hope I can take the knowledge that I can learn from the convention not only to come back to Minnesota and do what I can to help the DFL candidates, but also to put it to use in my community," he said.

His family's struggles for equal rights parallels what he reads in history textbooks.

"In the course of my studies, I have learned about the 1964 freedom summer," he said, a struggle that included efforts by minority Democrats to become convention delegates.

Former Vice President Walter Mondale, the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party's elder statesman, was part of efforts to change the national party's rules.

By 1968, Mondale said, he and others had changed the rules so that Democrats of all races could participate in conventions equally.

"We reformed the Democratic Party so we couldn't have segregated delegations," Mondale said.

In those days of civil rights protests and advances, Mondale added, it was impossible to believe that a black candidate like Barack Obama would have a chance to become president. He now is optimistic Obama will win on Nov. 4.

Josie Johnson, a long-time Minnesota Democrat and civil-rights advocate, said racism such as is being reportedly aimed at Obama should not be part of the presidential campaign. Americans should not "let some of the stuff we heard as children creep into their heads," she said.