Civil Rights leader and Reverend Wyatt Tee Walker, who was a key strategist to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., died today in Virginia. He was 88. Walker’s death was announced by Rev. Al Sharpton who was a friend and associate of Walker’s. Walker was a former Chief of Staff to Dr. King.
Walker was one of the most important players in the American civil rights movement.
“The passing of Dr. Wyatt Tee Walker marks the transition of one of one of the greatest social justice and theological minds of our time. Walker was the first Chairman of the National Action Network and a man that mentored me as a civil rights and social justice leader, and while I am saddened by his passing, I am committed to carrying on his legacy. It is both a personal and global loss to me. May he rest in peace,” said Sharpton in a statement.
Sharpton credits Dr. Walker with helping bring structure to the National Action Network and bringing in preachers from around the U.S. to work with NAN.
Walker co-founded founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in 1957 along with Dr. King. In 1958, King chose Walker for the board of SCLC. Walker worked on both organizations in Virginia and utilized his connections with local clergy to network and build a wider base of power.
Walker served as NAACP President of Petersburg, VA for five years and as state director of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), which he also co-founded in 1958. On March 12, 1964, JET magazine featured Walker as the “Man Behind Martin Luther King.”
“We are saddened by the passing of Rev. Dr. Wyatt Tee Walker. He was a fighter for freedom who dedicated his life to bending the arc of the moral universe toward justice. Harlem won’t soon forget his work winning more affordable housing for his community,” wrote New York City Mayor Bill deBlasio. For 37 years, Walker was senior pastor at Canaan Baptist Church of Christ in Harlem. Walker was known for his curbside sermons on the streets of New York at a time the city was doing poorly financially.
“Came from class discussing the life, work and art of Bro #HughMasekela with students only to learn that #WyattTeeWalker has joined him on his Ancestral journey. #MaaKheru to these new Ancestors. As we lift their names, they will strengthen us, forever. #Ase,” wrote Greg Carr, the Chairman of the African American Studies Department at Howard University, in tribute to Walker and the “father of South African Jazz” Hugh Masekela, who passed away on January 22 at 78.