Filed Under Biography

William O. Walker

Race Over Politics

In 2008, Barack Obama was elected President of the United States, making him the first African American to hold the office. President Obama was a Democratic candidate, which is not surprising. Because of the Democratic policies of the New Deal and Great Society, Civil Rights legislation of the 1960s, and the overwhelming number of Civil Rights leaders who were Democrats, the Democratic Party cemented itself as being the party representing the best interests of the black community. Yet, there was one Civil Rights leader in Cleveland who did not fit the mold. William O. Walker was the editor of the Call and Post, one of the nation’s most prominent African American newspapers, and he was a staunch Republican. Yet Walker was first and foremost a Civil Rights leader who would work with anyone, regardless of political affiliation, to advance the African American community.

Born in Selma, Alabama, in 1896, Walker was raised in a community where the Republican Party enjoyed heavy support from African Americans who still saw it as the Party of Lincoln. Many Republican politicians also appointed African Americans to federal positions in the South, including postmasters and custom agents, which only furthered Republican support in the African American community. As a result, Walker became a firm supporter of the Republican Party.

In 1932, Walker came to Cleveland to manage the Call and Post. In just four years, he managed to take the fledgling newspaper with a weekly circulation of 1,000 or less and turn it into a must-read source for Civil Rights information. Already an established journalist, Walker understood the power of the press for the creation of community activism. In the 1930s Walker was a founding member of the Future Outlook League, an organization that was devoted to fight for increased jobs for African Americans in Cleveland. The Future Outlook League successfully led pickets against some of Cleveland's most prominent businesses, including the Cleveland Trust Co., Ohio Bell Telephone Co., and F. W. Woolworth. Walker used the Call and Post to inform, encourage, and support these protests, while showing the success of such actions in creating jobs for African Americans. Similarly, in 1968, Walker used the Call and Post as the mouthpiece for Operation Black Unity’s boycott of the McDonald’s Corporation for not giving franchises to African Americans.

Walker also used the Call and Post to create a sense of pride in the black community. In his weekly editorial, "Down the Long Road," Walker advocated for an increase of African American businesses, a cry for African Americans to pay attention to the bigger political picture, and most importantly, that race does not have to be a handicap. "Down the Long Road" also tried to put agency back into the hands of the black community. Yet in these articles, there is also evidence of his Republican beliefs. Emphasis on self-help and business as the true drivers of improvement have always been a pillar of the Republican ideology, and Walker advocated for them throughout his career.

Although he held Republican views, Walker remained critical of both political parties. For example, he was critical of both President Eisenhower and President Reagan for not appointing African Americans to their cabinets. He also argued that the Republican Party was taking increasingly larger steps to isolate themselves from African Americans, which he saw as detrimental both to the Republican Party and the black community. As his career continued, Walker started working more closely with Democrats, including Carl Stokes, the first African American mayor of a major U.S. City, to advance the black community.

Walker was also an important political figure, serving as the first African American member of an Ohio Governor’s Cabinet during the Rhodes administration. Walker also received a nomination from President Reagan for chairman of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights in 1981. Walker died at his desk in the Call and Post headquarters at the age of 85.

In his Cleveland Press eulogy, Walker is quoted: "If it's ever a choice between friendship and race, I'll always support my race." The quote perfectly encapsulates everything that he believed in and worked for. Walker was, first and foremost, an African American man who worked tirelessly for the advancement of his race, and would work with anyone, regardless of party affiliation, to achieve his goals.

Images

Walker with Call and Post William O. Walker was the longtime editor of the Call and Post, Cleveland's leading African American newspaper after the 1930s. Although he was a Republican, Walker often went across party lines to help advance the African American community. With his work at the Call and Post, he was able to orchestrate successful boycotts and help create a sense of pride in the African American community, establishing himself as an important Civil Rights leader in Cleveland. Source: Cleveland Press Collection, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections
Call and Post Headquarters Located on East 55th Street, this building marks the original location of the Call and Post headquarters. While the headquarters moved to its own building on 105th at Chester Avenue in 1959, this location was featured prominently in Allen E. Cole's photos. Cole was one of the major forces behind the Call and Post's rise in prominence, creating idealized images of an African American society which worked well with the ideas presented in Walker's opinion section "Down the Long Road." This building was prominently featured in the paper's Newspaper Boys competition, an annual event that awarded Paperboys for subscriptions on their route. The connection to the competition helped the newspaper grow as members of the community tried to support their paperboys. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections
W. O. Walker and Louis Stokes Walker (left) and Louis Stokes, represented by his administrative assistant Ernie Fann (right), receiving awards for their contributions to the black community. Walker was an incredibly well respected and awarded journalist during his career with the Call and Post. Because of his work with the black press, Walker served as the second president of the Negro Newspaper Publishers Association (later renamed the National Newspaper Publishers Association), an organization of African American publishers designed to create a dialogue that would benefit the black press and advance Civil Rights in the U.S. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections
Carl Stokes with Paper Carl Stokes, the first African American mayor of a major U.S. city, was a close friend of William O. Walker, often consulting Walker for advice during his years as mayor. Although he was a Democrat, Stokes understood Walker's prominence in Cleveland's African American community and understood the power of the Black press. While the two eventually parted ways, Stokes respected Walker and his impact on Civil Rights in Cleveland. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections
Walker Laying Cornerstone at Glenville YMCA Walker was a highly respected leader of the African American community in Cleveland, often called "Godfather" and "Patriarch of the black community" by his contemporaries. Based on this incredible legacy, Walker was often given honors by the community including laying the cornerstone of buildings with community significance. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections
Black Leadership Meeting in Washington Walker (right) sits with President Ronald Reagan at a meeting of black leaders at the Blair House in Washington DC. A staunch supporter of Ronald Reagan during the 1980 election, Walker became deeply critical of President Reagan's failure to appoint African Americans to prominent political positions in his administration. In 1981, Reagan appointed Walker to be the chairman of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. However, Walker died later that year at the age of 85. Source: Cleveland Press Collection, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections

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Metadata

Joseph Skonce, “William O. Walker,” Cleveland Historical, accessed December 4, 2022, https://clevelandhistorical.org/items/show/686.