Sunday, November 24, 2019

In search of Dr. Annie Mae Walker

Closeup of gravestone
Dr. Annie Mae McClary Walker is buried in Greenwood
Cemetery in Daytona Beach. This image is from the
 Find A Grave website. 
Born in a Florida turpentine camp in 1913. Died with a string of "firsts" and awards to her name in 1998. Why hasn't anyone written an in-depth biography of Dr. Annie Mae McClary Walker?

I'd write the bio, but this is an #ownvoices story if ever there was one. I say that even though I'm ambivalent about that movement. I believe writers, actors, artists - all creatives - deserve the freedom to create at will, with no barriers placed. So my former-journalism self could write her life story. But I instinctively know an #ownvoices writer would produce a deeper bio than I could achieve.

1944 head-and-shoulders image of Annie Mae Walker  when she was known as Annie Mae Tooks
Screengrab is from an article,
"The American Negro in
College, 1943-1944," in a 1944
issue of The Crisis Magazine.
Annie Mae McClary Walker
was known as Annie Mae
Tooks at the time.
Dr. Walker was a pioneering African-American-Seminole educator whose strong personality and amazing life shine in a conversational biography penned by Dr. Lynn Hawkins, Always the First, The Story of Annie Mae Walker (Taylor and Seale Publishing, 2016)The book is based on hundreds of hours of recorded interviews between the two educators, who were friends. But when my Ravenclaw self went searching for more information about Dr. Walker, I found almost nothing.  A search of academic databases turned up zilch. She doesn't even have a Wikipedia page. Dr. Walker, where are you?

This was a woman who created Black Studies programs, was integral to the Head Start program, fought hard for civil rights, integrated neighborhoods, and was the first black professor of Black Studies at SUNY Stony Brook in New York. Among other achievements. And she knew what it was like to have a cross burned on her front lawn.

Her life journey intersected with an incredible roster of people. She was related by marriage to Mary McCleod Bethune and was taught by Zora Neale Hurston during the writer's brief tenure at Bethune-Cookman College (now University). She marched with Dr. Martin Luther King and had Malcolm X as a houseguest.

Dr. Walker's life was not without warts, as are all our lives. I haven't yet met a perfect being and won't until I meet the Lord. But the combined parts make up a fascinating whole. I look forward to reading an in-depth biography on this most interesting woman.