William A. Feilds was born into slavery near Fisherville in the county of Shelby located in west Tennessee in circa 1846. Although many records spell his surname as “Field” or “Fields,” William himself seems generally to have used the “e-i” combination, normally adding a final “s.”
Through years of hard work and close application to study, William earned his teaching certificate which qualified him to teach in the public schools. By 1883, William had become the principal of Shelby County’s 5th District school, at that time located on Waldran Avenue just beyond the Memphis city limits, not far from where Memphis Central High School stands today.
In addition to his career as a schoolteacher and principal, William served one term in the Tennessee House of Representatives as a member of the Republican party. He served from 1885-1886. During his years of service in the legislature, William was particularly interested in efforts to educate black children and to give African Americans greater control over the schools in their communities. He urged passage of his bill, HB 119, which would require parents and guardians to enroll children aged 7-16 in school for 120 days per year. After he left the legislature, William was also elected a member of the Shelby County County Court, a legislative body, and he served as a justice of the peace.
On December 29, 1874, William A. Feilds married Elizabeth Feilds. The couple had three children: Mary, Cyrus William, and Stella. He is also purported to be the great-great-grandfather of actress and recording artist Vanessa Williams.
This chalkboard champion passed away on September 9, 1898.