Bremerton Civil Rights Pioneer Immortalized

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 Ferguson.

I’m hoping to interview Ms. Walker on Monday.

`Legacy’ honors civil rights pioneer Lillian Walker

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 http://www.secstate.wa.gov/legacyproject/oralhistories/lillianwalker/default.aspx

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 www.TVW.org

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 college projects.

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 Trade Only.”

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 Bremerton.

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 friends.”

One thought on “Bremerton Civil Rights Pioneer Immortalized

  1. I’m sorry.
    I grew up here and never knew race was an issue in Kitsap County. I never saw such a sign here.

    “Kitsap County businesses, including cafes, taverns, drug stores and barber shops, displayed signs saying, “We Cater to White Trade Only.””

    “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 Bremerton.”

    “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….”

    What a woman!
    She fights for what’s right, helps create the YWCA here and is founder for something else I hadn’t known existed…Church Women United in Bremerton.

    Does Lillian Walker attend inspirational meetings for women who can meet such an inspiring role model in person?

    Women issues transcend race or color and each should learn and understand the other point of view and how that point of view came about.
    Exactly the same as chronic health conditions transcend race, color and don’t stop at borders.

    Congratulations Lillian Walker and to Kitsap Country…all the better for having Lillian Walker here!
    Sharon O’Hara

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