Serena Williams Family History
Serena Jameka Williams was born on September 26th, 1981 in Saginaw, Michigan and was the second daughter of Richard and Brandy Williams. Her elder sister Venus had been born fifteen months before.
In 1985 the family moved to Compton in Southern California. There both Venus and Serena began playing tennis at a very young age, being coached by Richard and his wife. Richard in fact had devised a 78-page plan to turn them into tennis champions.
In 1990, when Serena was nine, the family moved from Compton to West Palm Beach, Florida so that she and Venus could attend Rick Macci’s tennis academy. Five years later Richard pulled them out of the academy and took over himself all their coaching.
Venus started to play professional tennis tournaments in 1994 and Serena followed her three years later. Venus won her first Grand Slams (Wimbledon and US Open) in 2000. Serena won her first Wimbledon in 2002, defeating Venus in the final.
From then on the Williams sisters were dominant in women’s tennis. In fact their arrival on the scene ushered in a new era of power and athleticism in the game. Venus achieved seven Grand Slam victories over her career. But Serena won more – twenty-three in total – the most in the Open era. She is widely regarded as one of the greatest tennis players of all time.
Life in Segregated Shreveport
Serena’s Williams family, traced back to the birth of Richard Williams in Louisiana in 1886, had been sharecroppers. Richard married Lucy Jackson in Natchitoches in 1904 and worked there as a general laborer.
Later they moved some seventy miles north and east to Shreveport near the Texas border. This town operated as a commercial hub for the cotton and farm products coming from the surrounding plantations in Caddo parish.
Shreveport in the early 1900’s had a large black population. A number of local musicians from there – most notably Huddie “Lead Belly” Ledbetter – would become nationally famous. But Jim Crow laws applied and the town was strictly segregated.
Richard Williams died young, possibly in his late 30’s or early 40’s, and it was left to his widow Lucy to raise their three children. According to the 1930 census, she was the widowed head of the household and worked as a cook. Her son Richard Dove Williams Sr. was twenty-one at that time.
This Richard Sr. turned out to be a ne’er-do-well. He was in his early thirties when he married Julia Metcalf around the year 1941. They soon had four children, first Richard Jr. and then three younger daughters. But Richard Sr. was always the absent father who never stayed around to support the family. Indeed he had a reputation for living off women and having babies all over Shreveport.
Julia was at home alone in 1942 when she went into labour with Richard Jr. Because of Jim Crow she had to attend a hospital that was far away from her home. She started off towards that hospital drenched in rain and in great pain. Having walked for several miles, she fell on her knees and prayed. Shortly afterwards a member of her church saw here, came to her rescue, and took her to the hospital.
Julia picked cotton and raised four children and lived until 1985.
Her son Richard Jr. would be the father of Venus and Serena. “Life in the 1950’s was a battlefield, win or die,” he wrote in his 2014 memoir Black and White.
He lost two of his childhood friends to southern fried lynchings. His best friend Chili Bowl was killed by a white lady. She hit him with her car while he was riding his bicycle and just kept going. A few years later his second best friend Lil Man was lynched by the Klan. He was found hanging from a tree with his hands cut off. And Richard himself had his nose broken and was beaten up with sticks, bats and chains.
He left Shreveport for Chicago in 1960 when he was eighteen.
In some ways Richard was a carry-on from his father. He was irascible and pig-headed. He had over his life a string of women – three wives plus a number of girlfriends – and fathered at least eight children. But what he also had, fueled by the racism he experienced in Shreveport, was a steely ambition to succeed on his own terms.
This came to the fore after he left Chicago and settled in California. He equipped himself by working hard and reading. In 1978 he met Brandy Price who had three daughters from a previous marriage.
At that time he had no interest in tennis. But all that changed one day when he was at home watching TV and asked his stepdaughter YeTunde to find another channel. And she tuned to a station that was showing a tennis match.
Richard watched in astonishment as he heard the announcer say: “That’s not bad for four days work” in response to the victorious player’s $40,000 prize winnings for claiming the French Open title. Upon confirming the prize money after reading the following day’s newspaper, he made up his mind that he would have two children and make them play tennis.
Those two children would be his daughters Venus and Serena Williams.
What followed was the stuff of legend. They even made a biopic movie about him in 2021. It was entitled King Richard and starred Will Smith as Richard Williams.
Early on in the movie as in real life, the lily-white tennis establishment resisted Richard’s conviction that these young black girls who learned the game on the cracked, weedy courts of Compton, California would transform the game.
The movie’s most searing scene involved Richard’s wife Brandy Price. She got her overlooked due for helping to keep Richard’s plan for their daughters on course, while calling out on her husband’s past failures and inflated ego.
Richard suffered strokes in his later life. Since 2017 and his bitter divorce from his wife Lakeisha, he has been looked after by his son Chavoita.
Serena Williams’ Family Tree
- Richard Williams (b. 1886) from Louisiana m. Lucy Jackson (1886-1964) in 1904
- – Bertha Williams (b. 1905)
- – Richard (RD) Williams (1909-2002)
- – plus another living child
- Richard Dove (RD) Williams Sr. from Louisiana m. Julia Mae Metcalf (1922-1985) around 1941, later estranged
- – Richard D. Williams Jr (b. 1942)
- – plus three younger sisters (Pat, Barbara and Faye)
- Richard D. Williams Jr. from Louisiana m. Betty Johnson in 1965, divorced in 1973; rem. Oracene (Brandy) Price (b. 1952) in 1979, divorced in 2002; rem. Lakeisha Graham in 2010, divorced in 2017
- – Sabrina Deville (b. 1964) with Betty, not close
- – Ronner Williams (b. 1966) with Betty, not close
- – Richard Williams (b. 1967) with Betty, not close
- – Reneeka Williams (b. 1972) with Betty, not close
- – Chavoita LaSane (b. 1973) with another partner
- – YeTunde Price (1972-2003), murdered, from Oracene and Yusef Rasheed (who died in 1979)
- – Isha Price (b. 1975) m. Felix Fayron, from Oracene and Yusef Rasheed
- – Lyndrea Price (b. 1978) m. Vernon Imani, from Oracene and Yusef Rasheed
- – Venus Williams (b. 1980) with Oracene
- – Serena Williams (b. 1981) with Oracene
- – Dylan Williams (b. 2012) with Lakeisha
- Serena Williams m. Alexis Ohanian (b. 1983) in New Orleans in 2017
- – Olympia Ohanian (b. 2017)
- – pregnant with second child
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