EHM newest exhibit: Mrs Freda Williams and family

Michelle Williams and grandmother Freda Williams
Michelle Williams and grandmother Freda Williams

Each year for Black History Month, the African American Gallery of the Ethnic Heritage Museum opens a new exhibit spotlighting various aspect of Black History. This year, the African American Gallery will spotlight some of the family members of Mrs. Freda Williams along with some of the family members of Eddie and Sammie Washington. These two families later became one blended family whose members have made many contributions to improving life in Rockford.

This exhibit will feature the accomplishments of Doris Nolan, Jacqueline Pullins and her sons Eric and Dr. Christopher Pullins, Dr. Charles Washington and son Dr. Charles Washington, Bishop James Washington, Bonnie Jefferson and Anita Williams and her internationally known daughter singer/actress Michelle Williams, formerly of Destiny’s Child. These history making individuals have devoted their lives to helping others from education to healthcare to music.

Freda Williams, also known as “Mama Freda,” was born Sept. 16, 1920 in Tuscumbia, AL. She and husband Dennis Myles Williams Jr. and son, Dennis Myles Williams III lived in Cleveland, OH until the end of World War II where they relocated to Rockford. Mama Freda was employed by Roper Inc. and Rockford Board of Education as a custodian for many years, before retiring in 1982.

Mama Freda was a charter member of Providence Baptist Church, which was organized in 1947, serving in many capacities. She was a member of the Rockford and Elgin Usher Board Council. She was an honorary member of St. Paul COGIC, which she supported tirelessly. She played an active role in the Rockford community as a volunteer at St. Elizabeth Center, St. Paul Academy, Booker Washington Community Center, and Washington Park Community Center.

Drs. C. Washington and Eric Pullins, cousins
Drs. C. Washington and Eric Pullins, cousins

Eddie and Sammie Washington were married in December 1937 and were the parents of eight children. Eddie was a trained pilot but could not find employment until he moved to Rockford where he worked for Greenlee. Eddie later decided to further his education and obtained a certificate in blueprinting. He played piano at church and organized the St. Paul Brotherhood of Men, a youth musical group. His wife Sammie was very active in the community also and they both inspired their children to pursue a higher education.

Also featured in the exhibit is Michelle Williams of the band Destiny’s Child which also featured Beyonce and Kelly Rowland. The Mama Freda’s son Dennis married Eddie and Sammie’s daughter Anita. Michelle Williams started singing as a child in Church and performed gospel music for much of her early life. In 1999, Williams became a backup singer for R&B artist Monica. She then joined Destiny’s Child the following year. With Destiny’s Child, Williams made such hits as Survivor and Bootylicious. The group broke up in 2005, but they have reunited several times since. She performed at the Super Bowl with Destiny’s Child in 2013. Williams has released several solo albums as well, including 2008’s Unexpected.

In 2002, Michelle made her Broadway debut taking over for singer Toni Braxton in the musical Aida. She starred in a national tour of the Broadway hit The Color Purple, based on the book by Alice Walker.

Michelle has earned an array of awards and honors as a solo artist and as member of Destiny’s Child. These include (but not limited to); Grammy Awards, one MOBO Award, and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Billboard ranked Williams as the fifth Top Gospel Artist of 2002. Michelle continued to pursue a range of creative endeavors

Others spotlighted; Doris Nolan, Rockford’s second African American teacher and former County Board member. Doris is also one of the founders of the Rockford Chapter of the National Council of Negro Women.

Dr Charles Washington and son Dr. Charles Washington
Dr Charles Washington and son Dr. Charles Washington

Anita Williams who is a Registered Nurse and worked many years in Dialysis and as a Rockford Clinic nurse.

Jacqueline Washington Pullins and her sons; Eric (musician) and Dr. Christopher Pullins. In 1967, Jacqueline became the first African American graduate of Swedish American Hospital School of Nursing

Charles Washington, MD and son Dr. Charles Washington. Dr. Washington is a renowned physician, counselor, health care industry consultant, author, motivational speaker, pastor and humanitarian. Dr. Washington and son maybe Rockford only father and son doctors.

Bishop James Washington, Pastor of St. Paul Church of God in Christ and the founder of St. Paul COGIC Academy.

Bonnie Jefferson is a visionary as the owner of Bonnie’s Boutique, specializing in selling women’s hats.  She is also the sister-in-law of Rockford first African American State Rep. Chuck Jefferson.

To help celebrate the opening of this inspiring exhibit, The African American Gallery will host a special musical tribute on Sunday, February 14 starting at 3 p.m. to entertain you during your visit. Included will be a performance by Denise Williams, granddaughter of Mama Freda/Eddie Washignton and Michelle‘s sister. This special tribute is free to the public but donations will be greatly appreciated.

The Ethnic Heritage Museum located at 1129 South Main Street is unique in its blend of ethnic groups: African American, Irish, Italian, Lithuanian, Polish, and Hispanic.  A visit to each of the six galleries will enlighten visitors to the cultural history and traditions of each of these groups.

The “Freda Williams and Family“ exhibit will be on display until the end of April 2016. The Ethnic Heritage Museum is open every Sunday from 2-4 p.m. and admission is $5 individual or $3 student, $10 family, or free to members.

Special weekly tours may be prearranged by calling the museum at 815-962-7402 or emailing For more information visit our website at or email us at The museum is handicap accessible.

David Ruffin
Board of Directors
Ethnic Heritage Museum

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