Dr. Wyatt Tee Walker’s daughter confirmed the veteran theologian and activist’s death to The Associated Press/USA Today yesterday (January 23). Patrice Walker Powell said her father was either 88 or 89, based on varying family records. She added that he died at an assisted living facility in Chester, Virginia, of unspecified causes.
An obituary in The New York Times chronicles Walker’s life and many decades of racial justice activism and service to Black communities. Walker was born in Massachusetts and grew up in New Jersey, where his father was a preacher. He moved south to study at Virginia Union University, where he eventually earned a master of divinity degree. His activist career began soon after, while preaching in Petersburg, Virginia. The Times reports that he led local chapters of the NAACP and Congress of Racial Equality, through which he organized a series of civil disobedience actions against segregation. One of his actions involved leading a group of Black women and men through the “Whites only” door of a local library.
Walker eventually joined the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, serving as its executive director from 1961 to 1964. He worked alongside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. during that time, helping to orchestrate some of King’s best-known actions. One of them, known as “Project C,” involved a series of boycotts and protests in Birmingham. Those protests led to King’s incarceration, during which he wrote what would become “Letter From Birmingham Jail.” Walker helped publicize and circulate this document during King’s time in jail.
Walker left the South for a post at the Canaan Baptist Church of Christ, in Harlem, New York City in 1965. The Times notes that he became its lead pastor and organizational leader in 1967, serving in that post until he experienced several strokes and retired to Virginia in 2004. His tenure at Canaan Baptist Church included advocating for school reform and affordable housing development in Harlem and organizing anti-apartheid actions.