William “Bill” Simons, the first president of the modern Washington Teachers’ Union, has died. Simons served as WTU president for 25 years, led two teacher strikes—in 1972 and 1979— “and was responsible for negotiating numerous contracts that improved the pay and benefits of DC public school teachers, and set in motion reforms that improved the education of students throughout the District of Columbia,” said WTU. Current WTU president Elizabeth Davis called Simons “the voice of DC labor, an icon in black history and the center of DC politics,” in Christine Easterling’s biography of Simons entitled “A Giant for Justice.” “The work and example of William ‘Bill’ Simons will continue to inspire the WTU, its leaders and its membership as we strive to live up to the high standard he set as an educator, labor leader, community activist and human being,” Davis said on Wednesday.
Click below to read "Quiet Bill Finds His Voice," a poem about Simons by a Cardozo High School student.
In 2007, Bill Simons (on mic) participated in an intergenerational oral history program at Cardozo High School. This short poem was composed by one of the students who interviewed him.
Candace Wolf, Storyteller & Oral Historian
QUIET BILL FINDS HIS VOICE
By Melisha Adams
William H Simons
The fifth of eight siblings
Got the name "Silent Bill"
Because he didn't talk much.
Living through the bombing of Pearl Harbor,
They came knocking on his door
February of 1943,
And said, "You've got to go!"
Being in a segregated army.
He found out that
being a black man in World War II
Wasn't much different than
being a black man in the United States.
Never in his life had he faced gunfire before
and he was scared.
He wrote home to his family, saying,
"Well, I made it through the night!
Hope I can make it through tomorrow."
After the war,
He joined the Teachers Union,
and began to see the discrepancies
Between the white schools and the black schools in the city
He became active with the union and was elected president in 1964.
WOW! "Silent Bill" was not so silent after all!
"I never understood how this man you could barely hear
when he was teaching in class,
how he could get up and raise as much noise
as he did when he was president of the union,"
They said of him.
He started speaking up for what he knew was right,
And becoming part of something that was real
Fighting for higher pay for our teachers,
Fighting for better working conditions,
Fighting for books and supplies for students.
The teachers went out on strike -
Boy, they were brave!
We honor you,
William H. Simons
You teach us to speak up for our rights