When Harold "Hal" Walker appeared on the CBS television network in 1969, his was the first African American face Americans had ever seen delivering the news. Walker was the first black news correspondent, and he remained in the television news business at CBS and ABC until his retirement in 1995. The award-winning television news journalist died November 25, 2003.
Harold William Walker was born about 1934 in Darlington, South Carolina, but he was raised in New York City by his mother, a domestic worker. He studied theater and English at Denison University in Granville, Ohio, graduating in 1954. He then served four years in the Army. After his service, he dabbled in acting. He was doing public relations work for the New York state mental health department in Albany, New York, when a friend told him that television stations were looking to hire minority journalists.
Walker began his television career in 1963 at CBS-TV's Washington D.C. affiliate, WTOP-TV, which was later called WUSA. While there, he became a mentor to a production trainee named Max Robinson who, in 1978, became the first black national news anchor when he was named co-anchor of ABC-TV's World News Tonight.
Walker got his break covering the civil rights movement. In 1968, he covered the rioting that took place in Washington after the assassination of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. He anchored an hour-long documentary about the riots called A Dialogue with Whitey. The show earned Walker a local Emmy and the Ted Yates Award for outstanding professionalism from the Washington chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. Also in 1968, Walker was named Journalist of the Year by the Capitol Press Club. CBS News took notice of Walker and hired him to its Washington bureau the month after A Dialogue with Whitey aired.
CBS wasted no time assigning Walker to some of the nation's most important stories. One of his first assignments was the assassination of Sen. Robert F. Kennedy. He reported from Capitol Hill on campus unrest and on riot-torn areas of Washington for CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite. During his career with CBS, Walker covered the inaugurations of presidents Richard M. Nixon, Jimmy Carter, and Ronald Reagan. He also contributed to the flurry of reporting that surrounded the Watergate scandal. In 1977, he was assigned to the CBS bureau in Bonn, Germany as a foreign correspondent for the network. Not everyone was supportive of Walker's breaking the race barrier of television news. Though he received bigoted hate mail, he never talked about it with his colleagues.
After eight years with CBS, Walker took a position with ABC and served as a foreign correspondent for that network, remaining in Bonn. He later was promoted to Frankfurt bureau chief. While in Europe, Walker covered several history-making stories for ABC. He covered the 1988 Pan Am Flight 103 disaster over Lockerbie, Scotland, and reported the fall of the Berlin Wall and communism in Eastern Europe in 1989.
- Born in Darlington, South Carolina
- Graduates from Denison University in Granville, Ohio
- Begins work at WTOP-TV in Washington, D.C.
- Anchors civil rights documentary A Dialogue with Whitey
- Hired as first black television journalist at CBS News
- Promoted to CBS foreign correspondent in Bonn, Germany
- Begins work for ABC News as correspondent in Bonn
- Retires from ABC News
- Dies at home in Reston, Virginia on November 25
Walker was known in the business as a "skilled beat reporter who did not rely on others to do his legwork," according the Washington Post. He was also "uncharacteristically polite" in an ordinarily "cutthroat" business.
Above All Else, a Professional
Jerry King, a retired ABC White House reporter, recalled in the Washington Post an incident in 1981 that gave example to Walker's professionalism. The Iranian hostage crisis, during which fifty-two American hostages were held in Iran more than fourteen months, had just come to an end. Both King and Walker were covering the story. The American hostages had just been released and were sequestered at a military hospital in Germany. Walker got a tip that one of the hostages had sneaked out of the hospital to visit his family near Frankfurt. Walker tracked the man down and interviewed him one-on-one in his doorway, away from the throng of military handlers with which other reporters were dealing. Walker apologized to King when his report earned more prominent airplay than King's that night. He later moved to ABC's London bureau. Walker remained with ABC for fifteen years, until his retirement in 1995.
Bernie Seabrooks, the first black producer at CBS News, was Walker's longtime friend and colleague. Seabrooks recalled Walker's easy temperament in an interview with Television Week. Seabrooks said Walker was the one to calm things down. Seabrooks also noted that, during an era at ABC when other reporters' expense accounts were lavish, Walker kept his spending to a minimum. Walker avoided the spotlight, preferring to keep his private life private. During the last few years of his life, Walker and Seabrooks conversed daily. Though Walker was battling prostate cancer, he always turned the conversation to Seabrooks' problematic knees. At his memorial in Washington, he was remembered by friends and colleagues as a "good and disarming" person, and a "jack-of-all-trades" reporter, according to Television Week.
Walker was married three times. His first two marriages ended in divorce. He kept a home in Washington D.C. for years and spent his retirement playing tennis and golf. He died November 25, 2003, at his home in Reston, Virginia from prostate cancer. His survivors included his wife of a year, Diane Blust Walker of Reston; three children from his first marriage, Harold Stephen Walker of Denver, Alison Schlatter of Charlottesville, and Sarah Walker of Jersey City; a sister; and four grandchildren.
After Walker's death, his colleagues remembered him with great fondness and respect. According to the Hampton Roads, Virginia Daily Press, a CBS news release stated that CBS News anchor Dan Rather, who worked with Walker when both were assigned to the White House, described his colleague as an "exceptionally alert reporter" who "could do it all." Rather said Walker rarely talked about race and merely "wanted to be judged as a pro." Television Week quoted ABC World News Tonight anchor Peter Jennings saying on air: "He loved his job. He loved being overseas. In the best tradition of a foreign correspondent, he was always ready to go somewhere. And he was very good company to boot."
Bernstein, Adam. "Television Journalist Hal Walker Dies at 70." Washington Post, 28 November 2003.
Greppi, Michele. "Broadcaster Remembered; Hal Walker, CBS and ABC Foreign Correspondent, Broke Down Barriers." Television Week, 8 December 2003.
"Hal Walker, 70, Television Correspondent." New York Times, November 27, 2003.
"TV newsman Hal Walker dies." CNN.com. http://www.cnn.com/2003/SHOWBIZ/TV/11/27/obit.walker.ap/ (Accessed 20 December 2005).