Rise Up

Wyatt Tee Walker, Dr. King's Right Hand Man, Is a Black Activist You Should Know About

Reverend Walker is one of black history’s unsung heroes who was a pioneer during the Civil Rights era and beyond.

by Aaron Barksdale
Feb 5 2018, 5:00pm

Illustration by Tallulah Fontaine

For one month a year, the nation sets aside much-needed time to highlight the achievements made by black Americans and challenges they continue to endure. Despite the importance of Black History Month, the conversation seems to be limited to a few important names — such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Harriet Tubman, and W.E.B. DuBois to name a few — but lesser-known black Americans from all walks of life and experiences have had equally important roles in spreading tolerance and teaching acceptance. To celebrate Black History Month, VICE Impact is focusing on the accomplishments of unsung heroes who were key figures in the fight for racial equality.

The Rev. Dr. Wyatt Tee Walker was a colleague of Dr. King and served as the director for the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) in Virginia. Dr. Walker held leadership positions in several civil rights groups, including president of a local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and volunteer for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). During the Jim Crow-era, Dr. Walker was a strong advocate for nonviolent demonstrations and was instrumental in strategizing peaceful protests against segregation in the South.

Dr. Walker was born in 1929 and came from humble beginnings. His grandmother was a former slave, but both of Dr. Walker’s parents were graduates of Virginia Union University— a historically black college. Dr. Walker would follow in his parents’ footsteps graduating from the same university in 1950 with a degree in physics and chemistry. He later earned a Master of Divinity degree in 1953 and became involved in the fight for civil rights while preaching.

Among his many accomplishments, Dr. Walker is celebrated for having helped organize the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. That same march was also the event where Dr. King delivered his famous “I Have a Dream" Speech. Dr. Walker and King had a close relationship, and he helped Dr. King construct his “Letter from Birmingham Jail” after King was arrested for protesting the mistreatment of blacks in Alabama.

Dr. Walker continued to champion racial justice causes until his death in 2018. His legacy of activism and message of tolerance for other people despite their differences holds strong, especially in today’s divisive political climate.

People of color still face injustice across the country, particularly at the polls. VICE Impact has partnered with the ACLU to end racial discrimination that keeps minorities exercising their right to vote. Here’s how you can take action to make sure everyone has a voice in how the county is run.

Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that Dr. Walker's grandfather was a former slave, but it was his grandmother who was a former slave. We regret the error.