I’m posting the press release from the Secretary of State’s
office without making any “ha-ha” remarks to my good friends who
live and work across the Sinclair Inlet from Bremerton. Isn’t that
big of me?
This is the second Kitsap resident to be honored in this way be
the state. The first was former Bremerton Sun writer Adele
I’m hoping to interview Ms. Walker on Monday.
`Legacy’ honors civil rights pioneer Lillian
OLYMPIA – A 95-year-old Bremerton civil rights pioneer is the
latest Washingtonian to have her life story told by The Legacy
Project, the oral history program established in 2008 by the Office
of the Secretary of State.
Lillian Walker helped found the Bremerton branch of the NAACP in
1943 and went on to serve as state NAACP secretary. She was
conducting sit-ins and filing civil rights lawsuits when Martin
Luther King was in Junior High.
A biography and an oral biography based on sit-down interviews,
plus photos and other materials, have just been posted at
A rollout ceremony is planned for 2 p.m. on August 11 in
Secretary of State Reed’s office at the Capitol, featuring remarks
by Congressman Norm Dicks, Reed, chief oral historian John Hughes,
and Dianne Robinson, Bremerton councilwoman and co-founder of the
Kitsap County Black Historical Society. The ceremony will be
televised by TVW and available on streaming video at
The Legacy Project e-publishes oral histories and biographies of
Washingtonians who have been instrumental in shaping our history.
The materials are published online and are free for easy click-on
reading or downloading. They are excellent resources for school and
In the past nine months, The Legacy Project has offered up
profiles of Charles Z. Smith, the first ethnic minority on the
State Supreme Court; pioneering female journalist Adele Ferguson;
rocker-turned-civic activist Krist Novoselic; former Chief Justice
Robert F. Utter; and trailblazing federal judge Carolyn Dimmick,
who was the first woman on the State Supreme Court.
Soon to be published are the oral histories of former first lady
Nancy Bell Evans and astronaut Bonnie Dunbar. An oral history with
former Governor Booth Gardner is in preparation, and a biography of
the late Congresswoman Jennifer Dunn also is in the works.
“It is a real privilege for Washingtonians to learn more about
the inspiring Lillian Walker story, which is emblematic of the work
of so many in this state for racial equality and equal rights for
all,” Reed said. “It also reminds us that the clock is ticking if
we don’t want to lose the chance to preserve these stories. The
Legacy Project, which is part of the planned state Heritage Center
on the Capitol Campus, is hard at work, on a shoestring budget, to
preserve this part of our history and our heritage.”
Mrs. Walker and her late husband, James, arrived in the Navy
Yard city of Bremerton in 1941 together with thousands of other
African-American wartime workers who thought they had left racism
behind in the South and industrialized cities of Midwest and East.
But many Kitsap County businesses, including cafes, taverns, drug
stores and barber shops, displayed signs saying, “We Cater to White
In a landmark case, the Walkers took a soda fountain owner to
court and won. They also discovered there were “a lot of righteous
white folks” in Bremerton. Sixty-five years later, the centennial
year of the NAACP finds Mrs. Walker still in the trenches,
“reminding people about The Golden Rule.”
She is a charter member of the YWCA of Kitsap County, former
chairman of the Kitsap County Regional Library Board, a 68-year
member of Ebenezer African Methodist Episcopal Church, and a
founder and former president of Church Women United in
Lillian Walker exudes dignity, pluck and perseverance. One of 11
children born to a mixed race couple on a farm in rural Illinois,
she dreamed of becoming a doctor, but she was the wrong color and
the wrong gender at the wrong time in the wrong place. Still,
there’s no bitterness over the fact that she and her late husband
took on an assortment of part-time janitorial jobs for 40 years to
make ends meet and give their kids a better life. Their son
graduated from Stanford University, went on to earn a Ph.D. and is
an epidemiologist for the Centers for Disease Control.
Someone once asked her, “Why are you always smiling?” “Frowning
and cursing,” she replied, “that’s not going to make you any