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Wyatt Tee Walker: Overview

Information on the Dr. and Mrs. Wyatt Tee Walker Collection at UR

Selected Bibliography

Subject Headings for Further Research

Walker, Wyatt Tee

Civil Rights

History of the Civil Rights Movement

Southern Christian Leadership Conference

Civil Rights Movements

Civil Rights Movement, Primary Sources

King, M. Luther (Martin Luther), 1899-1965

Canaan Baptist Church of Christ (New York, N.Y.)

Montgomery Bus Boycott, Montgomery, Ala., 1955-1956

Biography

The Rev. Dr. Wyatt Tee Walker, civil rights leader, pastor, composer, scholar, and theologian, was born on August 16, 1929 in Brockton, Massachusetts to John Wise and Maude Pin Walker. He earned a B.S. in chemistry and physics from Virginia Union University in Richmond in 1950, graduating magna cum laude.  That same year he married Theresa Ann Walker. In 1953 Dr. Walker became pastor of Gillfield Baptist Church in Petersburg, Virginia.  He also served as president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in that city and as director of the state's Congress of Racial Equality (CORE).  Dr. Walker founded the Petersburg Improvement Association (PIA) which was patterned after the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA).

During his time in Petersburg, Dr. Walker worked to integrate the town's public library, as well as lunch counters at the bus stop cafes. His work to integrate the public library included walking in the "Whites Only" door and asking for the first volume of Douglas Southall Freeman's two-volume biography of Robert E. Lee, a man Dr. Walker considered guilty of treason. Dr. Walker was arrested for this, the first of 17 arrests.

In 1958, Dr. Walker became a member of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), an organization headed by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  He rose quickly in the organization; in 1960 Dr. King appointed Dr. Walker the executive director of SCLC and Dr. King's chief of staff, a post he held until 1964. Walker's civil rights participation reached beyond his administrative duties.   On May 25, 1961, Walker and his wife were arrested in Jackson, Mississippi for participating in a Freedom Ride. Dr. Walker was also the chief strategist responsible for organizing Project C, the Birmingham Movement that ended with Dr. King's Letter from Birmingham Jail and the 1964 Civil Rights Act.  He also helped organize the 1963 March on Washington.

Dr. Walker's civil rights activity was international in scope. In 1978, he organized the International Freedom Mobilization to fight against apartheid in South Africa, and would go on to be an election monitor for South Africa in 1994. His anti-apartheid work would result in a friendship with Nelson Mandela, whose first visit to America as the president of South Africa began with a stop at Dr. Walker's church.

On September 1, 1967, Dr. Walker relocated to New York City to become pastor of Canaan Baptist Church of Christ in Harlem.  Under his dynamic leadership, Canaan's congregation grew from 800 to 3,000. During this period he also served as Special Assistant for Urban Affairs to New York Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller. Dr. Walker was also the single largest developer of affordable housing in New York City and co-founder of the first charter school approved by the State University of New York, the Sisulu-Walker Charter School in Harlem.  In 1975, Dr. Walker earned a doctorate of ministry degree from Colgate-Rochester Divinity School.

In 1993, Dr. Walker received national recognition when Ebony magazine named him one of America's "15 Greatest Black Preachers." In 2004, Dr. Walker retired as pastor of Canaan.   He earned more acclaim in 2008 when he was inducted into the Civil Rights "Walk of Fame" in Atlanta, Georgia.  On January 18, 2009, during the inauguration events in Washington, D.C. for President Barack Obama, Dr. Walker received the "Keepers of the Flame" award at the African-American Church Inaugural Ball.

After retiring in 2004 from Canaan Baptist Church of Christ, Dr. Walker moved to Virginia and taught at the School of Theology at Virginia Union University. He passed away January 23, 2018.

Dr. and Mrs. Walker generously donated their papers to the University of Richmond in 2015. For more information on the collection, please visit The Dr. and Mrs. Wyatt Tee Walker Collection page.

Biography adapted from Blackpast.org

African American Legends: Rev. Wyatt T. Walker on the Civil Rights Movement

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