Walker, Wyatt Tee

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Walker, Wyatt Tee

August 16, 1929

Born in Brockton, Massachusetts, minister and civil rights activist Wyatt Walker was educated at Virginia Union University in Richmond, Virginia (B.S., 1950, M.Div., 1953). He received a D.Min. from Colgate Rochester Bexley Hall/Crozer in 1975. Walker was minister of Gillfield Baptist Church in Petersburg, Virginia, from 1953 to 1960. In 1960, with his wife, two children, and several followers, Walker entered Petersburg's segregated public library and asked for the first volume of Douglas Southall Freeman's biography of Robert E. Lee. Arrested for trespassing, Walker refused to post bail and spent three days in jail. This event attracted the attention of Martin Luther King Jr., who invited Walker to join him in Atlanta.

From 1960 to 1964 Walker worked closely with King as executive director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). Combining an intense personality with strong tactical skills, Walker was at the forefront of the civil rights movement. In addition to his administrative duties he was often on the frontline of the protests, enduring police beatings and arrests. On June 16, 1961, Walker was one of the delegates from the Freedom Ride Coordinating Committee to meet with Attorney General Robert Kennedy. Walker is credited with organizing "Project C," the detailed plan for the Birmingham campaign in April 1963. He controlled the marches and sit-ins by walkie-talkie all day, and stayed up at night personally typing King's famous "Letter from Birmingham Jail" as it was smuggled to him in installments.

In the summer of 1964 Walker resigned his position with the SCLC and moved to New York City, where, as assistant to Adam Clayton Powell Jr., he served as pulpit minister at the Abyssinian Baptist Church. He was also vice president of American Education Heritage, publishers of a multivolume series on the history and culture of black America. In 1966 he was appointed assistant on urban affairs to Gov. Nelson Rockefeller. In 1967, having left Abyssinian, he became minister (and subsequently senior pastor) of the Canaan Baptist Church of Christ in Harlem. From this pulpit Walker continued to work on behalf of the African-American community into the 1990s. As CEO of the Church Housing Development Fund, Walker supervised the construction of housing for the elderly known as the Wyatt Tee Walker Apartments. From 1977 to 1987 he was director of the Freedom National Bank, which later failed. In August 1979 he was a member of the controversial SCLC delegation that met with the UN Representative of the Palestinian Liberation Organization in order to promote peace in the Middle East. He served as an advisor to Jesse Jackson and was National Coordinator for Church and Clergy during Jackson's 1984 and 1988 presidential bids. An expert in black gospel music, in February 1985 Walker participated in "Thank God!" a four-part TV "docu-drama" about black church music.

In the early 1990s Walker was active in the Consortium for Central Harlem Development, a group of religious, civic and business leaders working to improve living conditions for the needy; as National Chairman of the Religious Action Network of the American Committee on Africa, Walker raised funds for Nelson Mandela and the African National Conference.

Walker has authored numerous books, including Somebody's Calling My Name: Black Sacred Music and Social Change (1979); Road to Damascus (1985), which tells of the group he and Jesse Jackson led to Syria in 1984 to obtain the freedom of a black Navy flier, Lt. Robert O. Goodman, held hostage there; and most recently My Stroke of Grace: A Testament of Faith Renewal (2002).

See also Abyssinian Baptist Church; Civil Rights Movement, U.S.; Freedom Rides; Gospel Music; Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC)


Cloyd, Iris, and William C. Matney Jr., eds. Who's Who Among Black Americans, 6th ed. Detroit, Mich.: Gale, 1990.

Colaiaco, James A. Martin Luther King, Jr.: Apostle of Militant Nonviolence. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1988.

lydia mcneill (1996)
Updated by publisher 2005