The Rev. Dr. Wyatt Tee Walker


During his 37-year tenure as senior pastor of Canaan Baptist Church of Christ, The Rev. Walker spearheaded the church’s development of affordable housing and a senior center.

The Walker Family Archives

The Reverend Wyatt Tee Walker, a longtime Harlem minister who served as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s chief of staff, devoted his life to fighting for social justice and human rights.

The grandson of a former slave, Walker was born in Massachusetts, the 10th of 11 children. Though his family struggled financially, their house was filled with books and a picture of Frederick Douglass hung on the wall.

Walker earned a bachelor’s degree in physics and chemistry from Virginia Union University in 1950, and a master’s degree in divinity in 1953. That year, he met the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. Their friendship reaped benefits for civil rights in America.

Organizational meeting of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), circa 1961. The Rev. Walker is standing to the left of Dr. King.

The Walker Family Archives

“The challenge of this age is to resist and conquer in each of our own beings the racist brainwashing that is still active in our minds.”

- The Rev. Wyatt Tee Walker.

King later appointed Walker as the first executive director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Serving from 1960 to 1964, Walker is credited with growing the volunteer organization into a national civil rights stakeholder. He was the chief strategist of “Plan C,” a non-violent protest campaign that started in Birmingham in 1963. Protesters’ confrontations there with white authorities, widely covered by the press, marked a turning point in the 20th century civil rights movement.

Walker also helped organize the 1963 March on Washington, where Dr. King inspired millions with his “I Have a Dream” speech. He was choosen as King’s chief of staff the following year.

In 1966, Governor Nelson Rockefeller appointed Walker as Special Assistant on Urban Affairs. In 1968, Walker became the pastor at Canaan Baptist Church of Christ in Harlem, where he served for 37 years.

Top: The Rev. Wyatt Walker with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Bottom: In 1994, Nelson Mandela visited Canaan Baptist Church as one of his first stops of his U.S. visit. The Rev. Walker was a leader in the U.S. movement against apartheid in South Africa.

The Walker Family Archives

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