"So many things happened in 1963 that affected us later," Williams told the group of about 50 students recently.
In that year, the centennial of the Emancipation Proclamation, Martin Luther King Jr. led a march on Washington D.C., delivering the speech popularly known as "I have a Dream."
It was the year that saw President John F. Kennedy give a speech in Berlin declaring himself a jelly donut; changes in how Kennedy approached civil rights and his view of Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev; and the first stirrings of what would later become America's involvement in the Vietnam War.
Williams said Kennedy was initially hesitant to back King's movement and was perceived as "wishy-washy" in dealing with Khrushchev but later changed his views on both.
"People evolve," Williams said. "Kennedy evolved."
It was the year that included the assassination of both Kennedy and Medgar Evers, and saw the rise of George Wallace, who, as governor, tried to block access to two black men entering the University of Alabama.
Students at the talk seemed aware of the events of the year, but Williams gave them context and perspective that came from researching his upcoming book.
Foothill student Sonia Jensen said she came away with new insights about 1963.
"Much of the historic information I had learned previously in my history class, however he presented it with much more detail and with an interesting perspective on it," Jensen said. "He was very well educated of that particular year and the decade of momentous change surrounding it."
Jensen was among those who asked questions.
She seemed to strike a nerve when she asked about gun control in the aftermath of the Newtown school shootings, a topic that's been a part of several of Williams' columns in local newspapers.
Williams has been advocating making gun registration mandatory, with a 20-year federal sentence for anyone caught with an unregistered weapon.
"If we have to register a car every year, are you telling me it's impossible to register a gun?" Williams asked the students.
In a recent column, Williams pointed out that the total fatalities of the shooting deaths in Newtown, Columbine, Aurora, Colo., Fort Hood and Tucson, Ariz., come to less than half the deaths in Oakland last year.
"Newtown is not the face of gun violence in America. Urban America is the face of gun violence," he told the students.
Jensen said she'd never thought about the issue the way Williams presented it.
"Many youngsters are dying every day in urban cities and there is no one speaking out for them," she said. "He was most certainly not disparaging the tragedy of Newton, Conn., but highlighting the point that it seems the media only makes a big deal out of shooting when it occurs in quiet towns rather than places like Oakland."
The book will be available this year, the 50th anniversary of the events that, in Williams' view, changed the future.
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