Charlene “DeCharlene” Williams was born to Richmond “Mutt” Brown and Geraldine Brazzle on January 13, 1943, in Temple, Texas. Cancer (Uterine Sarcoma) took her life on May 20, 2018.
The family moved to Oregon in 1945 and settled in NE Portland where DeCharlene attended and graduated from Jefferson High School.
She married at 15 and moved to Seattle with her husband, Robert “Bobby” Williams. She earned an AA Degree from Seattle Edison (now known as Seattle Central) College and then attended Edwards Beauty School where she graduated in 1961.
After divorcing her husband, in 1965, at the age of 22, she opened her first salon on 25th and Union. While running this shop she also worked at the Seattle Tennis Center and Fircrest Hospital to save up money to buy her own building.
When DeCharlene was looking to buy a building she was denied loans by 30 different banks. She was trying to purchase property during a time when property was not sold to single women, especially women of color (Economic Starvation). Being one to never take “No” for an answer; she convinced a banker to use only her first initial instead of her full name on the loan application, so they would not know that she was a woman.
In 1968, she purchased a one-story brick building at 2108 East Madison Street in the Central District; she remodeled the building and opened up shop, at one point employing 13 women.
In the 1970’s DeCharlene opened a Boutique on Old Main street, which was a very vibrant business district in Bellevue. Hers was the only Black Owned business on the strip. It took business acumen and expertise to run her business in Bellevue while also maintaining her business in Seattle. She closed her Bellevue Boutique opting to fully concentrate in Seattle due to the planned Central Area Urban Renewal plan she learned of while serving on Mayor Charles Royer’s Small Business Task Force.
A 30-year gentrification plan for the Central Area was in the works. A process of renovating deteriorated urban neighborhoods by means of the influx of more affluent residents.
In 1983, DeCharlene founded the Central Area Chamber of Commerce to help Black businesses seek solutions to common problems, such as being denied the opportunity of loans that could have helped them restore their buildings and grow their businesses.
It was her passion to help minority business development and support minority businesses and she worked hard to teach her community the importance of being involved in city planning and development.
One of DeCharlene’s primary focuses around economic and community development is what she called “micro-businesses,” typically understood as enterprises with five or fewer employees, or in some cases, no employees other than self-employed owners.
“Hands that Touch Builds Unity” was her motto. She wanted to bring the Black Community together to create economic independence.
Some of her accomplishments were:
• Wrote two short books on the history of the Central Area, one in 1990 & the second in 1996
• Published a Black business directory
• Published a calendar of community events
• Ran for Seattle City Mayor in 1993
• Ran for Seattle City Council in 1997
• Co-founder of the Central Area Youth Association (C.A.Y.A.)
• Helped Chris Bennett start the Medium Newspaper
• Helped to start Seattle Medic One in 1969 (a service that saves lives with pre-hospital care)
• And much more.
DeCharlene belonged to many organizations throughout her lifetime and was a member of South Side Church of Christ in Skyway Seattle. She loved her church and enjoyed Bible Studies; often missing events when they conflicted with Bible Study night.
DeCharlene leaves to cherish her memory: a son, Anthony ”Tony” Lee Williams – Spokane; daughter, Rita Green (Lorenzo); siblings: Darlene Beck, Mae Jewel Roberts, Gloria Jean Roberts – Union Park, Florida; Lester Roberts (Beverly), Shawn Marie Williams and Sherri “Nikki” LaNese Brown-Davis (Marcus). Seven grandchildren – Anthony Williams, Jr., Michael Williams, Crystal Williams, Brittany Green – Baton Rouge, LA; Robert Williams, Marcus Williams, Lorenzo Green Jr., and a host of family and friends.
Donations can be sent to: The Central Area of Commerce 2108 E Madison St, Seattle, WA 98112