Mississippi State University has announced a gift of artifacts and documents related to Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War from former Rhode Island chief justice Frank J. Williams.
Considered to be the largest privately owned holding of Lincoln research and display material and the most comprehensive privately owned Lincoln and Civil War library in the country, the Frank J. and Virginia Williams Collection of Lincolniana comprises more than seventeen thousand items, including rare historical memorabilia, artifacts, original signed documents, artwork, ephemera, and twelve thousand volumes published over a hundred and fifty years. In addition to donating the collection — valued at nearly $3 million — to MSU, along with $500,000 for the maintenance, study, and display of the items, the Williamses plan to make additional acquisitions for the collection and have pledged to fund an annual Frank and Virginia Williams Lecture in Lincoln and Civil War Studies at the university.
To be housed in a new $10 million addition to Mitchell Memorial Library that is scheduled to open later this year, the collection will be showcased in a 1,200-square-foot gallery and organized around themes such as family, politics, the law, the presidency, the Civil War, slavery, and Lincoln in popular culture.
Williams began his Lincolniana collection as a sixth-grade student, using his lunch money to buy used books about Lincoln. Later, he was inspired by the life of the sixteenth president to pursue a career in law that, among other achievements, saw him serve as chief judge on the U.S. Court of Military Commission Review, the military appeals court responsible for adjudicating Guantanamo detainment cases. In addition, he is the author of several books about Lincoln and a founding chair of the Lincoln Forum, which hosts an annual symposium in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. As the longtime president of the Ulysses S. Grant Association, Williams also was instrumental in relocating that group and its own archives from Southern Illinois University to MSU nine years ago.
"I believe the college is the perfect repository for the material that my wife and I have spent a lifetime gathering, preserving, studying, and making available on request to research scholars among our countless friends in the Lincoln world," said Williams. "MSU's commitment to the study of Grant, the Civil War — and, now, Abraham Lincoln — in the heart of the Deep South takes us a giant step forward in our ever-challenging quest for civility, common purpose, and national unity."