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Verda Williams papers

Identifier: IWA0137

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Scope and Contents

The Verda L. Williams papers measure 12.2 linear inches and date from 1965 to 2004. They are arranged in six series: Biographical material, "Black Des Moines: Voices Seldom Heard," "Life Force," Video projects, Women's Studies, and Record albums.

The Biographical material series (1969-1998) includes background information on Williams as well as her poetry, materials on Buddhism, family photographs, and computer-generated photograph montages.

The series devoted to "Black Des Moines: Voices Seldom Heard" (1985-1986 and undated) includes tapes of in-depth interviews with twelve prominent black men and women living in Des Moines and short interviews with a number of black residents responding to the question "When you think of Des Moines what comes to mind?" Transcripts of some of these interviews are included.

The "Life Force" series (1982-1985) comprises eleven of the scripts Williams wrote for the program and two videotapes.

The Video projects series (1972-1996) includes five videotapes of projects Williams directed and produced.

Williams's commentaries on films she produced and which were shown to a Women's Studies course at Iowa State University are included in the Women's Studies series (1986-1987). The notes reveal much about Williams's personal and professional experiences.

Eleven jazz and rhythm and blues records and a Delta Sigma Theta benefit album for which Williams served as consultant comprise the Record albums series (1966-1977). These few albums were part of a more extensive collection. Many of the albums are autographed by individuals whom she interviewed for "Positively Black" and were selected for retention for that reason.

One DVD, "Impeach Bush. It's the American thing to do," was compiled by Verda Williams prior to the 2004 presidential election.


  • Creation: 1965-2004


Conditions Governing Access

The papers are open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright of a portion of these materials has been retained by Iowa State University. Iowa State University grants a right to any person to use or reproduce materials for a non-commercial purpose as long as any copy includes acknowledgement of Iowa State University's ownership of copyright, and Williams's authorship of the works.

Biographical / Historical

Verda L. Williams, video communications specialist at the Iowa State University Extension Service (Ames), was born in Des Moines, Iowa on October 13, 1944. She graduated from Roosevelt High School in 1962, attended Morgan State College and the University of Minnesota, and graduated with a B.A. from Drake University in 1966 and an M.A. from Iowa State University in 1987.

An aspiring actress, Williams was denied leading roles in high school and at Drake University because she was black. Determined to pursue her interest in theater, however, she majored in journalism with an emphasis on radio and television production, a field in which she felt she would find less discrimination.

Throughout her career Williams has had wide-ranging experience as a writer and producer for radio, theater, and television productions. She has received much recognition and numerous awards for her work. Starting in the mid-1960s as an announcer and interviewer for several Iowa radio stations, she later produced and wrote for the theater in Chicago and Des Moines. Working at NBC-TV in New York from 1970 to 1978 she produced and wrote many features, including "Positively Black," a one-hour, weekly public affairs program. After leaving NBC, Williams pursued a movie career.

In 1979 she was the production office coordinator for a CBS-TV movie, "Hard Hat and Legs," and a production assistant for the feature film, Can't Stop the Music. When the demands of raising her daughter, Nova, and the long hours demanded for movie production became increasingly difficult to balance, Williams moved back to Des Moines in 1980. As communications specialist for WOI-TV (Ames) she wrote, produced and hosted "Life Force," a monthly thirty-minute program (1981-1986) and two television specials, "Black Des Moines: Voices Seldom Heard" (1985) and "The Gift of Song" (1987). Each special received a National Continuing Education Award. Williams earned the United Press International Award for "Black Des Moines" as well. "Positively Black" was nominated for an Emmy Award in 1978. In 1998 she was one of six alumni honored by Drake University's School of Journalism and Mass Communication. Williams also wrote an unpublished book, "Rabbit," with singer Nona B. Hendryx in 1973. Verda Williams passed away in 2021.


10.00 linear inches

24 audiocassettes [AC359, 377-399], 3 videocassettes [V06, V136-V142], 12 record albums, 9 DVDs [d0010, d0019-d0026] Cassettes

Language of Materials



Communication specialist at Iowa State University who produced the documentary Black Des Moines: Voices Seldom Heard.

Method of Acquisition

The papers (donor no. 344) were donated by Verda L. Williams in 1996 and succeeding years.

Related Materials

Barbara M. Calderon papers (IWA): Calderon was a surrogate aunt to Verda L. Williams. Some of the computer-generated montages in Williams' collection depict Calderon.

Dora E. Mackay papers (IWA): Mackay is the aunt of Verda L. Williams.

Beverly George Everett papers (IWA): Everett is featured in "The Gift of Song."

Catherine Gayle Williams (IWA): Williams was interviewed for the "Black Voices Seldom Heard" project.

Natalie S. Brody, 1997-1998; Janet Weaver, 2004.
Language of description
Script of description
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Repository Details

Part of the Iowa Women's Archives Repository

100 Main Library
University of Iowa Libraries
Iowa City IA 52242 IaU
319-335-5900 (Fax)