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Christopher Newport Honors William R. Walker Jr.

Local leader and former Board of Visitors member recognized with historic marker.

  Friday, September 20, 2019
President Trible and Ambassador Howard Walker unveil the new historic marker.
President Trible and Ambassador Howard Walker unveil the new historic marker.

Christopher Newport recognized the contributions of local leader and former member of the Board of Visitors William R. Walker Jr. with a ceremony unveiling a historic marker in Walker’s honor.

The plaque, located next to the Gregory P. Klich Alumni House, designates “Walker’s Green” and honors Walker’s life and accomplishments. The marker is located on the same address and site where his house once stood at 72 Shoe Lane.

The sign acknowledges Walker’s opposition to locating Christopher Newport College in what was once an African American neighborhood.

“Christopher Newport is proud to recognize William Walker’s many contributions to the city of Newport News, the Virginia Peninsula and the University,” said President Paul Trible. “Although Mr. Walker was initially opposed to locating Christopher Newport on its present site, he became a great friend and supporter of our school.”

Dr. Phillip Hamilton, professor in the Department of History, first came across the origins of Christopher Newport’s campus when researching its history for his book, Serving the Old Dominion: A History of Christopher Newport University. Then-Faculty Senate President Dr. Brian Puaca also became interested in the story and garnered support for honoring the site of Walker’s former home.

“Most of us here are from somewhere else, so our knowledge of what happened here is limited,” Puaca said. “Now we have a chance to recognize somebody who was such a remarkable person and, at the same time, to spark curiosity about the history of this place.”

A Newport News native, Walker served the community and the Virginia Peninsula in many ways. After graduating magna cum laude from Howard University, he returned to his alma mater of Huntington High School and taught mathematics and chemistry.

He later served as the community manager of Aberdeen Gardens, one of the first federal housing community projects in America. After World War II, he established real estate and insurance businesses in the area. He also served several terms as president of the Newport News Chapter of the NAACP. In the early 1960s, the city of Newport News considered two possible sites for Christopher Newport College’s location, ultimately settling on 32 parcels along Shoe Lane. Much of that land was also home to African Americans whose families had lived there for decades.

Walker organized and led the African American landowners along Shoe Lane to protest the city's plans to purchase their property, fearing it would displace their community.

The city ultimately was able to secure the property and deeded it to the College of William & Mary, which at the time governed Christopher Newport. The first building opened in 1964.

Walker came to see the value of Christopher Newport’s contributions to the community, serving three terms on the Board of Visitors. He died in 2004 at the age of 92.

“There is an importance to institutional memory that I think can get lost given all the rapid transformations that have happened here,” Hamilton said. “I think it’s an important story for the entire community to reconcile with.”

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