Willis Edwards was a civil rights icon and NAACP leader.
He died July 13, 2012, of cancer. He was 66.
In 1982, Edwards was elected president of the NAACP Beverly Hills/Hollywood Branch. More recently, he served as first vice president of the Beverly Hills/Hollywood branch. Edwards is credited with by many helping to build the coalition of producers and funders that led to the first NAACP Image Awards live on national television in 1986.
NAACP Chairman Roslyn M. Brock said Edwards embodied the spirit of the organization.
“Willis attended his duties with great humility and greater passion. His accomplishments in the civil rights arena speak to a career that defies narrow definition. Willis promoted and protected the image of African Americans in the arts; he shaped and expanded the vision of the NAACP National Board of Directors; and he tore down barriers to honest conversation about HIV/AIDS in communities of color. He will be greatly missed.”
Edwards served on the National Board of the NAACP for 12 years in many different capacities. His roles included vice chair of the Image Awards, member of the NAACP Crisis Magazine Committee; member of the executive committee and the budget and finance committee; member of the national health committee and chair of the sub-committee on HIV/AIDS. He recently stepped down from the board of directors and joined the NAACP board of trustees.
“Willis Edwards was a towering figure in the NAACP, and his legacy will be remembered for generations to come,” stated NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous.
“As a civil rights crusader, he continued in the tradition of those who came before him but also created new avenues to pursue justice in a changing world. His ingenuity made him a strong leader and a trusted advisor to so many freedom fighters across the country.”
Diagnosed with HIV/AIDS late in life, Edwards developed a reputation as a strident spokesman for HIV/AIDS education and advocacy. He was instrumental in guiding the NAACP’s work with HIV/AIDS. He also worked with the Minority AIDS Project. His final project was the development of the NAACP manual, “The Black Church and HIV: The Social Justice Imperative,” a handbook to help congregations stem the spread of the virus.
“Willis Edwards was a national leader for the NAACP and a partner with the City of Los Angeles in the struggle for equality and justice for all people,” Los Angeles Mayor Antonio R. Villaraigosa said in a statement.
“I was proud to call him a personal friend for over 20 years in the struggle for civil liberties.”
Edwards was born in Carthage, Texas, on Jan. 1, 1946. He was raised in Palm Springs, Calif.
He later attended California State University, Los Angeles, where he became active in politics.
Edwards began his life in activism as a staffer on the Robert F. Kennedy presidential campaign and earned a Bronze Star in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War.
He worked with Nelson Mandela and Rosa Parks, arranging for Parks to sit with first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton at the 1999 State of the Union Address. He served as vice president of development and planning for the Rosa Parks Museum and Library in Montgomery, Ala.