James H. Gilliam Sr. Fund for Social Justice & Equity
James H. Gilliam, Sr., who spent a lifetime serving as a dedicated, inspirational community leader and role model, passed away on September 10, 2015. He was 95.
He was born on August 6, 1920 in Baltimore and earned a Bachelor’s degree in Sociology from Morgan State University and a Master’s in Social Work from Howard University. He married the late Louise Hayley Gilliam in 1944 and they had two children, Jim Jr. and Patti.
After he graduated, he joined the U.S. Army, where he served from 1944 to 1948 in the African-American World War II division known as the Buffalo Soldiers. He was a combat veteran of the North Apennines and Po Valley campaigns on the Italian front.
He was decorated with two Bronze Stars, the American Campaign Medal, the Combat Infantryman Badge, the National Defense Service Medal, the European-African-Middle East Campaign Medal, the World War II Victory Medal and the Honorable Service Lapel Button WWII.
In 1950, he was recalled to duty as a Captain in the Korean War. He was stationed in Germany with the U.S. Army 147th Quartermaster Truck Company and earned the Army of Occupation Medal with the Germany Clasp.
After his tour of duty, he returned to Baltimore and began a distinguished career of public service. In 1954 he became a psychiatric case worker supervisor for the Maryland State Department of Health, then a management aide for the Housing Authority of Baltimore in 1955 and Chief of Renewal Operations for the Baltimore Urban Renewal and Housing Agency in 1963.
In 1965, he moved to Wilmington as Director of Neighborhood and Housing Services for the Greater Wilmington Development Council. In 1968, he was one of a very few residents authorized to walk the Wilmington streets to help quell the unrest during the National Guard occupation following the assassination of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
He joined Leon Weiner & Associates as Executive Vice President in 1970 and a year later, took a leave of absence to carry out Governor Russell Peterson’s request to overhaul Delaware Family Court. Three years later, he became the first director of the New Castle County Department of Community Development & Housing, a position he retired from in 1990. Nine years later, he founded and served as Chairman of the Metropolitan Wilmington Urban League.
His numerous contributions were recognized throughout his illustrious career. He was named Delaware’s “Social Worker of the Year,” in 1969; awarded the Order of the First State by Governor Pierre DuPont, the Distinguished Delawarean Award in 1982; and the Kiwanis Club of Wilmington’s J. Caleb Boggs Community service Award in 1990. He received many other honors throughout his career.
He loved jazz. In 2001, Morgan State University named its new, 2,000-seat renowned concert hall for him and his wife Louise.
Along the way and throughout his life, he negotiated, fundraised and helped develop numerous community organizations, serving in various leadership capacities, including President of the National Urban League Development Fund, Board President of the Children’s Bureau of Delaware, Board Member of the Medical Center of Delaware, President and Chairman of the Board of Community Housing Development Inc., Member of the Wesley College Board of Trustees, Commissioner of Speer Trust, Director of United Way of Delaware, and Elder of the First & Central Presbyterian Church. He also served on the State of Delaware Board of Parole.
Jim had several nicknames, but his most apt was “the Godfather.” His “sitdowns” were legendary and he challenged and pushed everyone to do what was right in a timely and unvarnished fashion, irrespective of the costs. His mentees included chief executives, elected officials in the highest offices in our country, public servants of all stripes and a great many who happen to lose their way and wanted a second chance. He was a voice for the voiceless and the conscience for us all.