Williams was born in Jackson, Mississippi, and his family moved to Syracuse, New York. After naval service in World War II, he graduated in 1950 from Syracuse University. He was a journalist for Ebony (his September 1963 Ebony article “Negro In Literature Today” has been singled out for particular praise), Jet, and Newsweek magazines.
His novels, which include The Angry Ones (1960) and The Man Who Cried I Am (1967), are mainly about the black experience in white America. The Man Who Cried I Am, a fictionalized account of the life and death of Richard Wright, introduced the King Alfred Plan – a fictional CIA-led scheme supporting an international effort to eliminate people of African descent. This “plan” has since been cited as fact by some members of the Black community and conspiracy theorists. Sons of Darkness, Sons of Light: A Novel of Some Probability (1969) imagines a race war in the United States. The novel begins as a thriller with aspects of detective fiction and spy fiction, before transitioning to apocalyptic fiction at the point when the characters’ revolt begins.