Speaking at Green Hall, Williams, who hosts the National Public Radio show "Talk of the Nation," used the life of Thurgood Marshall as an example of someone who believed that the law should be used to help people.
Marshall, who as an attorney argued landmark civil rights cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, was "using the law to try and shift the ground," Williams said. Among Marshall's cases was Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka.
Because of the work of Marshall and other civil rights attorneys, "the law that was once an agent of oppression has become an agent of liberation," Williams said.
Williams wrote a best-selling biography of Marshall, who became the first black U.S. Supreme Court justice. Marshall died in 1994.
Ironically, because of his appointment to the high court, Marshall was sometimes ridiculed by liberals and minorities as a "token" used by the establishment, Williams said.
Williams also wrote "Eyes on the Prize: American Civil Rights Years, 1954-1965," which was a companion book to the PBS series. Williams also serves as a panelist and political analyst for the Fox News Channel.
His visit to KU was co-sponsored by the law school and Office of Multicultural Affairs as part of African-American History Month. He also appeared as part of the law school's Judge Nelson Timothy Stephens lectureship series.
In hosting "Talk of the Nation," Williams travels throughout the country holding town hall meetings. He said those meetings have given him a sense of major issues facing the country, such as class and age division.
He said the money produced by high technology in cities such as Austin, Tex., is producing a have and have-not society where minorities and poor whites are being priced out of the housing market.
Places such as Florida, he said, are examples of growing conflicts between the young and old. Young people are seeking better schools and economic opportunities, while older people want better health care, and neither group wants to pay for the other, he said.
Williams also said he senses that many Americans, of all races and economic backgrounds, feel disconnected from their communities. "Everywhere in America, people are saying, 'I wish I had a stronger sense of community,'" he said.
-- Staff writer Scott Rothschild can be reached at 832-7221.