Born into a prosperous toiletries manufacturing family in Detroit, Michigan, Mennen Williams was educated at Princeton University and received a J.D. from the University of Michigan Law School in 1936. An avid supporter of Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal, Williams worked on the Social Security Board from 1936 to 1939, when he became Michigan assistant attorney general. During World War II, Williams served as a lieutenant commander in the navy as an intelligence officer and, when the war ended, after a short stint with the Department of Justice and the Office of Price Administration (OPA), he practiced law as a partner in the Detroit law firm, Griffiths, Williams, and Griffiths. Active in state Democratic politics, Williams successfully ran for governor in 1948 on a platform that echoed the New Deal and supported organized labor and civil rights. During his campaign, Williams (nicknamed Soapy) mixed easily with the voters and earned a reputation as "down home." He was re-elected five times, supported by a liberal-labor coalition. As governor, he resisted the Republican-controlled state legislature's attempts to institute sales and use taxes and advocated instead taxes on income and corporations. In the 1960 presidential campaign, Williams was in a position to challenge John F. Kennedy's candidacy but chose not to run so that he could concentrate on solving his state's economic problems. While he did throw his support behind Kennedy, he did not support the selection of Lyndon B. Johnson as his running mate.
When Kennedy was elected, the new president appointed Williams as assistant secretary of state for African affairs and he remained in that position until 1966. Williams ran for U. S. senator in 1966 but lost to the Republican incumbent, Robert Griffith. He was appointed ambassador to the Philippines in 1968, and in 1970 was elected to the state supreme court where he served as chief justice from 1982 until his retirement in 1986. He died in Detroit two years later.
Source: American National Biography Online. Internet on-line. Available From http://www.anb.org.
Recommended citation: Eleanor Roosevelt, John Kennedy, and the Election of 1960: A Project of The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers, ed. by Allida Black, June Hopkins, John Sears, Christopher Alhambra, Mary Jo Binker, Christopher Brick, John S. Emrich, Eugenia Gusev, Kristen E. Gwinn, and Bryan D. Peery (Columbia, S.C.: Model Editions Partnership, 2003). Electronic version based on unpublished letters. .
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