The Delta Grassroots Caucus (DGC) is a broad coalition of grassroots leaders in the eight-state Delta region. DGC is also a founding partner of the Economic Equality Caucus,
which advocates for economic equality across the USA.

Tribute to the Legacy of Carol Willis: A True Champion for the Delta

Posted on September 07, 2018 at 12:08 PM

The Delta lost one of its greatest and most forceful leaders this week with the passing of Carol Willis. We would like to pay tribute to his tremendous dedication to racial, social, political and economic justice.

Carol Willis was one of President Clinton’s closest advisers. They first met in the 1970s when Carol was a law student in then Professor Bill Clinton’s classes at the University of Arkansas Law School. Carol played a key role in Bill Clinton’s rise to state, regional and then national leadership.

Lee Powell and many other Delta Caucus partners worked with Carol Willis on the Delta regional initiative and related good causes during the Clinton administration, and he also came to many Delta Caucus activities after the Clinton Presidency. He was quite a presence at all of our meetings, and we always admired his leadership and courage.

Janis Kearney, White House diarist and senior aide to President Clinton, author, and founding publisher of WOW Publishing in Little Rock, said: “Carol Willis was a friend whose friendship I greatly valued. He was truthful even when it hurt. He saw everyone on the same plane no matter how much or little one owned. He kept us all grounded and forever reminded us what the struggle was about.”

“There will never be another Carol Willis,” Janis Kearney continued, “and the space he’s left inside my heart will never be filled by anyone else, but by 30 years of memories; wonderful memories.”

Kevin Smith of Helena, long-time Delta regional advocate, said “I am deeply saddened. He was a Delta hero.”

Harvey Joe Sanner of Des Arc, president of the American Agriculture Movement of Arkansas, said “The Delta has lost a great friend and champion.”

Carol Willis was a tremendously valiant, assertive and knowledgeable leader for the Mississippi Delta region, in addition to his many other services to our state and nation. He was not afraid to get on the case of powers that be, regardless of which party they were from or how powerful they were.

When we advocate to the state and federal powers that be about the ongoing problems of poverty, racism and injustice in our region, we should honor the legacy of Carol Willis by telling truth to power even when it is difficult or even painful to do so.

He grew up in the heartland Delta community of McGehee, Arkansas, and no one knew better than Carol Willis how far our region has to go to join fully in the American dream of equality and opportunity for all.

President Clinton wrote the most moving tribute to his old friend. We would like to do our part to honor his legacy.

The one comment that resonates most with many of us in the Delta Caucus from President Clinton’s poignant tribute to Carol Willis is the following comment about his dear friend’s courage in being candid about painfully difficult issues:

“He was also a good, loyal friend who was never afraid to speak hard truths if I needed to hear them.”

Some people just can’t be replaced. We believe Carol Willis was one of them.

Never forget the courageous example of Carol Willis: stand up and be counted, speak truth to power about the dilemma of poverty and injustice in the Greater Delta Region and across our country.

President Clinton’s tribute is below. We send out our thoughts to his wife Joyce and family at this sad time:

Public Statement from President Bill Clinton on the Passing of Carol Willis

I loved Carol Willis. We met more than 40 years ago when he was a student at the University of Arkansas Law School and I was teaching there. At a time when African-Americans were just beginning to attend the school in substantial numbers, he was a voice for inclusion and was an important part of my efforts to help more African-American students earn law degrees there.

From the time I entered state politics until I left the White House, he was one of my most effective and trusted campaign aides and advisors.

He was a brilliant political organizer who really cared about people and making sure that their voices were heard. He was also a good, loyal friend who was never afraid to speak hard truths if I needed to hear them.

He always had my back, in victory and defeat. In the toughest times, he could always make me laugh. The harder the fight, the better he did.

And no matter how busy he was, he was always willing to be a mentor to younger people, especially African-Americans, looking to get involved in politics and make a difference. His legacy will live on in his beloved Arkansas and across the country through the many people he inspired and whose lives he touched.

Indispensable in campaigns, full of down-home wisdom, a real friend. That was Carol Willis.

Carol lived a good, full life, and Hillary and I will always be grateful to have shared so much of it with him. Our thoughts and prayers are with Joyce and their family.