The Rev. Dr. William Raymond Worsley marched with local civil rights titans like Dr. Reginald Hawkins, Julius Chambers, Fred Alexander, and even Dr. Martin Luther King.
He was a hidden figure of Charlotte’s civil rights movement. He died last week at the age of 93.
A moment with his mother when Worsley was about 12 forever changed his life. Worsley recalled his experiences in a 2004 interview with UNC Charlotte.
“I was on the bus, a little city bus and they asked my mother to move. I’ve never forgotten that. That the blacks had to move back so that the whites could have a seat," he said. "I have never forgotten that. I couldn't quite understand why my mother had to get up and move just because she was black."
"I realized that’s what was happening to other black people and then I began to think about that. It was in the back of my mind even when I was in my late teens.”
That moment and other experiences with discrimination motivated him to get an education and to make a difference. He went on to Johnson C. Smith University where he participated in lunch counter sit-ins in Charlotte and New York City.
“We had to picket Woolworth downtown. And, when I was a student in New York at Union Seminary we picketed at Woolworth up there, which was 125th street, right there," he said.
"Not far from Columbia University. Yeah, I used to go down there, just like I say, and picket that place. Now we could sit, we could eat there, but we picketed that place just to show our support for people in the South, you see."
Worsley was in college when he was drafted into World War II. He was one of the first African Americans to see combat in the war while serving in the South Pacific. In 2011, President Obama awarded him the Congressional Gold Medal.
After returning to the states, Worsley went on to earn a doctorate at Emory University in Atlanta. It was there that he worked with nationally recognized civil rights leaders like Ralph Abernathy, Hosea Williams, and Dr. King.
“When I say I worked with them, I attended meetings and I also learned to listen to how they would map out everything before they would take to the streets," he said. "A lot of people think they just jumped out there and started. They had meetings and stuff. I learned that that was the way to do it.”
Worsley took what he learned about organizing in Atlanta and brought it back to Charlotte.
“Coming here...boy that was something. They had Chambers here and Chavis, just like I say, and Reginald Hawkins," he said. "We had a meeting, oh every week, and sometimes during the week. It was a campaign that I had never forgotten and it is one that should be going on now for certain causes.”
Hawkins has said that Worsley was the lieutenant of civil rights leaders in Charlotte. He credits Worsley with helping prevent rioting in the city after Dr. King’s assassination.
Whether it was marching on the square in uptown Charlotte, sit-ins at Woolworths, helping bring forth Swann v. Charlotte Mecklenburg Board of Education, a landmark Supreme Court case, or his role as a Presbyterian minister, Worsley dedicated his life to fairness and equality.
Later in life, he had a new challenge, Alzheimer’s disease. His son William Worsley said he approached that the same way he did everything, relentlessly.
Funeral services are this Thursday at C. N. Jenkins Memorial Presbyterian Church.