JACKSON, Miss. -- Former Mississippi Gov. John Bell Williams, a political maverick and staunch segregationist whose career spanned 20 years in Congress, was found dead Saturday at his apartment. He was 64.
'I'm sure it was a heart attack,' said state Rep. Jimmy Morrow of Brandon, a longtime friend.
Rankin County Coroner Jimmy Roberts ruled Williams died of natural causes, probably a heart attack. He said Williams probably died sometime Friday evening shortly after talking with friends.
Williams, a states' rights advocate, served two decades in Congress. He left Washington in 1967 after being stripped of his Democratic seniority for supporting Barry Goldwater in Goldwater's 1964 bid for the Republican presidential nomination.
He returned to Mississippi and ran for governor, defeating opponents that included current Gov. William Winter and former Gov. Ross Barnett.
'I had just talked to him about 8 o'clock last night and he was feeling all right then,' Morrow said.
A friend went to Williams' home Saturday morning and found the doors locked, Morrow said. The unidentified friend notified police. Williams was found lying on a couch with the television on, Morrow said.
Williams, who lost the lower part of his left arm in World War II, served as governor from 1968 to 1972 -- a period marked by violent social change. But for many in the state, his administration may be best remembered as the one in power when hurricane Camille hit the Gulf Coast Aug. 17, 1969. The storm left 135 people dead and caused $1.5 billion in property losses.
Williams traveled to the area by car as soon as daybreak arrived. He stayed in the area for two weeks.
Williams boasted of coining the phrase 'Black Monday' to characterize the Supreme Court's 1954 desegregation ruling, and as governor he continued to blast the federal courts and court-ordered busing.
But the state elected its first black legislator since Reconstruction at the same time Wlliams won the governor's office, and by the end of his term, black voter registration had jumped dramatically across the state and white politicians were openly courting black support.