On Friday, Oct. 21 at 10 a.m., Chesterfield will hold a ceremony at Enon Library dedicating the building in honor of the late Dr. Wyatt Tee Walker, a pastor, humanitarian, theologian and cultural historian who held a number of leadership roles with civil rights organizations during his lifetime.
Enon Library is located at 1801 Enon Church Road. For those who are unable to attend in person, the ceremony will be streamed live on the Facebook pages of both the Chesterfield government and Chesterfield County Public Library.
“We are absolutely thrilled to recognize and honor Dr. Wyatt Tee Walker, a civil rights leader and longtime Chesterfield resident whose life’s work honored all of humanity,” said Chris Winslow, chairman of the Chesterfield Board of Supervisors. “Renaming the library building is not only an expression of our community’s rich history, but also a memorial to the dedicated and inspirational man Dr. Walker was. It is my hope that the next generation visiting the library will see his name and seek to learn more about him and his positive impact on America.”
Dr. Walker is best known for his tenure as chief of staff to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. During the same period (1960-64), he joined the board of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and worked as its first full-time executive director. He previously had served as president of the Petersburg chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and as state director of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). He was also a founder of the Virginia Council on Human Relations, a biracial group working for desegregation.
In 1959, Dr. Walker led a Pilgrimage of Prayer in Richmond, which resulted in the passage of a resolution urging the appointment of a biracial commission to seek a solution to Virginia’s segregated school system. The following year, he and other African Americans protesting segregation were arrested and jailed after entering through the “whites only’’ entrance of the Petersburg Public Library to check out a biography of Robert E. Lee.
“Chesterfield County Public Library is honored to name the Enon Library building in recognition of Dr. Wyatt Tee Walker,” said Carolyn Sears, assistant director of CCPL. “Of his many efforts in the civil rights movement, one spurred protests that led to the desegregation of many public libraries in the south. Naming this building after him is an ideal way to honor his legacy into the future.”
In 1961, Dr. Walker and his wife, Theresa, volunteered as Freedom Riders in an effort to enforce the Interstate Commerce Act, which declared that segregation in interstate transportation facilities was illegal. Freedom Riders often faced arrests and violence as buses crossed state lines or as riders disembarked in southern states where the law was not being enforced.
After leaving the SCLC, Dr. Walker went on to become the senior pastor of Canaan Baptist Church of Christ in Harlem, New York, where he served for 37 years. He formed the International Freedom Mobilization, a movement to oppose apartheid and racial injustice in South Africa, then helped supervise South Africa’s first fully representative elections in 1994 -- which resulted in Nelson Mandela becoming the country’s first post-apartheid president.
Dr. Walker received more than 100 awards and citations for his work in human relations and civil rights. He was inducted into the International Civil Rights Walk of Fame at the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site; was named one of the “Greatest Black Preachers’’ by Ebony magazine; and received the “Keepers of the Flame’’ award at the African American Church Inaugural Ball during inauguration events for President Barack Obama.
Following his retirement as senior pastor of Canaan Baptist Church of Christ in 2004, the Walkers relocated from New York to Chester. Dr. Walker continued to write and give interviews and served as a key historian for the Smithsonian’s new National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. He died in January 2018 at the age of 89.
“We were so fortunate to have Dr. Wyatt Tee Walker call Chester home, following his retirement,” said Bermuda District Supervisor Jim Ingle. “He was a man of strength and high moral character. The renaming of the Enon Library building is our community’s way of honoring him and his many significant contributions.”
Chesterfield’s 2022 Community Facilities Bond Plan includes $17 million to replace the current 4,000-square-foot Enon Library with a modern 25,000-square-foot facility. If the bond referendum is approved by voters in the Nov. 8 general election, the new Enon Library building also will be named for Dr. Walker.