Wyatt Walker
National Visionary

Born August 16, 1929 in Brockton, Massachusetts

Religious leader, activist, author and chief strategist for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Religious leader, activist, and author, Rev. Wyatt Tee Walker is internationally known for his contributions to the Civil Rights and anti-apartheid movements. A chief strategist for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Walker was one of the key architects of the 1960-64 civil rights campaigns.

Born August 16, 1929 in Brockton, Massachusetts, Walker was the tenth of eleven children. While he was an infant, the family moved to Merchantville, NJ, a town renowned at that time for rampant racism and segregation. At nine years-old, Walker staged his first civil rights protest when he and his siblings refused to be turned away from a segregated movie house and instead entered the theater and took their seats.

Wyatt Walker:
Civil Rights Act

Civil Rights Activist
explains the marches
that led to the
Civil Rights Act of 1965

While studying at Virginia Union University, Walker met Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The two built a lasting relationship, and Walker soon became King’s key strategist for the civil rights campaigns.

After graduating from Virginia Union with bachelor’s and master’s degrees, Walker became minister of the Gillfield Baptist Church in Petersburg, Virginia. During this time, Walker began actively supporting the major civil rights organizations, working with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), and serving as a member of the board for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). In 1960, Dr. King appointed Walker Executive Director of SCLC, and during his four-year tenure, Walker helped the organization fund-raise over one million dollars, built the SCLC staff from five to 100 employees, and served as King’s top strategist. Walker also orchestrated some of the key events of the Civil Rights Movement, including student sit-ins, freedom rides, and protests and marches in Albany, Georgia; Atlanta; and Birmingham. He is most well-known for his success with “Project C,” which was a strategic plan for the mass marches in Birmingham and served as a blueprint for subsequent civil rights campaigns. During these early civil rights events, Walker stood on the front lines, getting arrested over 17 times.

This interview has
been archived in the
NVLP Collection of
African American
Oral Histories at the
Library of Congress
American Folklife
Walker has held numerous influential positions both in and out of the ministry. He has served as president of the Negro Heritage Library, a minister at the historic Abyssinian Baptist Church in New York City, and Special Assistant on Urban Affairs to Governor Nelson Rockefeller. In 1967, at King’s behest, Walker eventually took the Chief Minister position at Harlem’s Canaan Baptist Church, a position he held for 37 years. Walker earned a Ph.D. in African American studies with a specialization in music in 1975, and has since published 27 books on topics including human rights, the ministry and African American musical traditions. In Walker’s later career, he turned his attention to Africa, working in the Anti-Apartheid Movement and helping to bring about free elections in South Africa. Walker, who has preached on every continent in the world with the exception of Australia, is internationally known as a key member of the world’s religious community and as a tireless advocate for human rights.

Walker retired from Canaan Baptist Church in 2004. He now lives outside of Richmond, Virginia with his wife of 55 years, Theresa. The couple has four children and two grandchildren.



URL (Click to bookmark): http://www.visionaryproject.org/walkerwyatt