FRANKLIN TOWNSHIP, NJ - Township officials along with the Williams' family collaborated to mark the 35th anniversary of the dedication, of Naaman Williams Memorial Park in recognition of the park's namesake on Aug. 26.
"The idea came from Township Manager Bob Vornlocker and was supremely orchestrated by Detective Kenneth Daly," Councilwoman At-Large, Kimberly Francois (D) said. "The Williams family and I are grateful and thankful for such a wonderful event because it was well attended by the Franklin Police Department and many members of the community, and everything turned out perfect. The family traveled from Philadelphia, Massachusetts, California, and South Carolina wearing specially designed T-shirts to commemorate the Ceremony and turned it into a Family Reunion and they were all so very proud."
Franklin Township's PBA Local 154 dedicated a commemorative stone to honor the service provided by Williams.
Lt. Williams served as the first African American police officer to serve the Township of Franklin. Williams served from 1949 to 1976, he also was a member of Franklin Township Policemen's Benevolent Association Local 154. Williams was also an active civic leader who volunteered for many activities through First Baptist Church, focusing on professional and youth activities.
"Naaman Williams was appointed to a full-time position in 1956, making him only the 2nd full-time officer in Franklin’s history," Williams' great granddaughter, Jonique Wadday said. "He was a lieutenant with the department when he retired. He gracefully passed away on May 30th, 1982. A few months later, what was once Hamilton Park, was officially dedicated in his honor as Naaman Williams Memorial Park."
Williams was an active member of First Baptist Church of Lincoln Gardens when the Late Reverand Charlie H. Brown, Jr. led the church. Four generations later, his family still attends the church, now led by Reverend DeForest B. Soaries, Jr.
"He was a God fearing man, that was always humble and full of peace," Williams' grand daughter Andrea Ratliff said. "I never heard him raise his voice. He was always about the children, taking us places traveling, camping, amusement parks, fishing and watching baseball was his favorite. Every weekend the Williams family with his brothers and sisters were always getting together coming from New York, Philadelphia and Massachusetts to go to Railroad Avenue in New Brunswick, where he grew up. His sister Ruthy kept the house that their parent's lived in until her death."
Former Mayor of Franklin Township Nancy Henry gave her reflections on her time in office. "When he (Williams) was appointed to the Franklin Township Police Department, it was an honor. Not many men of color were being appointed to police departments. Franklin Township was the first one to hire a person of color, and that is an honor."
The family hopes the rededication can help the park to get a fresh start.
"We find it unfortunate, and disheartening the negative stigma found online when you search for Lt. Naaman Williams," Williams' great granddaughter Jalissa Ratliff said. "You will find entries of the crimes and murders committed here, at a place often referred to as Parkside Park. Our family hopes that this rededication will be the start of enlightenment to help change the park’s reputation because what is found online, is not what Naaman represented."
In the early 1950s, Williams was trained alongside Sgt. Albert Bessenyei, Sgt. Adolph Canavesio, Sgt. David Gilfillan, Sgt. Thomas J. Lee, Sgt. George Newell, Sgt. Charles Petrillo, Sgt. William Ribar, Sgt. Louis Shunk, Lt. Douglas Woitchek, Lt. Russell Pfeiffer, and Chief Edwin Vorhees by the FBI and the NJ State Police to learn the best methods to protect and serve Franklin Township.
Williams also assisted in the building of Franklin Township's Police Department when there was only one patrol car, a 1942 Ford 2-door Sedan, a photo of can be seen above in the photo gallery. Daly also discussed some of the details about the car.
"We are very proud of our great-grandfather, and hope the people of this community can feel proud of him also," Ratliff said. "On behalf of the Williams Family, and our elders: Uncle Major, Uncle Joe, and Aunt Thelma – the remaining siblings of Naaman Williams, we want to thank Detective Kenneth Daly and Councilwoman Kimberly Francois for inviting us to partake in today’s rededication ceremony for the Week of the People."
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