WHO IS RONNIE WILLIAMS
AND THE ABLF?
The Alabama Black Liberation Front (ABLF) was a Black radical group affiliated with the Black Panthers movement. It was founded in May 1970 by Wayland “Doc” Bryant and Michael Reese as an outgrowth of the Georgia Black Liberation Front in response to, "a rash of police killings of black people in Birmingham."
On September 15, 1970, five members of the ABLF were staying in the home of a 55 year old woman, Bernice Turner, to protect her from being evicted from her Tarrant City home which she owned. The night before serving the eviction notice, the Birmingham Police Department, who had been serveilling the ABLF for months, got word from an informant that the ABLF was staging an ambush against the police. That morning, 16 officers arrived at Mrs. Turner’s house, armed with tear gas guns, shotguns, and rifles along with their regular side arms. An officer knocked on the door, kicked it down when he heard no response, and later testified that he saw Wayland Bryant in the home pointing a rifle at him. What followed was a shoot-in initiated by the police. All five members of the ABLF crawled out of the home into the street. The police arrested all five members - Wayland Earl Bryant, age 42; Ronald Williams, age 24, who was wounded in the left side of his jaw; Harold Robertson, age 27; Robert Jakes, age 22, and Brenda Joyce Griffin, age 19, who was a few months pregnant. Jakes and Griffin were later released with no charges, leaving Ronnie Williams, Wayland Bryant, and Harold Robertson (The Birmingham 3) facing conviction. Harold Robertson was later released and said to have been extradited to New York but was never heard from again.
Ronald Williams and Wayland Bryant would go on to be convicted of felony assault of a police officer - despite ballistic evidence proving no guns from inside the home were ever fired - by an all white jury and sentenced to serve five years in Holman Correctional Facility, the most dangerous prison in the state of Alabama. While out on appeal bond, Ronald Williams was trying to keep the ABLF alive, working closely with other organizations like the Concerned Citizens for Justice who had fought for his release. He began a relationship with one of the members, Susan Wheeler, and they were later married. When Williams and Bryant’s case was upheld by the Court of Appeals and when the Supreme Court refused to review the case, Ronald Williams fled the state, becoming a fugitive. A few months later, Williams was arrested in Portland, Oregon - where he now lived with Wheeler and her family - and faced extradition. Wheeler and Williams then led an international movement to seek asylum in the State of Oregon while the Governor of Alabama, George Wallace, demanded his return.
In January 1974, Governor Tom McCall granted Ronald Williams asylum, allowing him to spend the rest of his days as a free man. His journey became an example for others with the same convictions. Williams became a father, went to college, went camping, he carved faces in wood, wrote poetry, and played African drums. He lived a normal life. But the trauma he experienced in his life was always there. He could never go back to Alabama, his home. He couldn’t take his daughter to meet her family. He was free but he was still trapped. He died on January 25, 1985 at the age of 38.
"...their only crime will have been their energetic efforts to build a revolutionary mass movement among the victims of poverty and racism."
Angela Davis, If They Come in the Morning: Voices of Resistance
THE BIRMINGHAM 3
Leading ABLF Member
WAYLAND "DOC" BRYANT
Founder of the ABLF