Thursday, February 23, 2012

Imagine Someone Trashing Your Lunch

We had a chance this morning to talk with Dr. William "Sonny" Walker, who was the first African American appointed to a cabinet position in Arkansas history. The appointment came from then Governor Win Rockefeller. As I mentioned on the air this morning, those of us who did not live in Arkansas at the time know of Rockefeller's work in clearning gambling out of Hot Springs, and his work using his connections for Economic Development in Arkansas.
This year would have been Rockefellers 100th birthday, were he still alive. And the Rockefeller Institute is working on a celebration of his life and his legacy. Part of that is reminding us of his work in civil rights.
Now, back to this morning. Walker told us his appointment was controversial in both the White and Black communities. Whites saw him as a radical. Blacks saw him as a sell-out.
He job related to expanding economic opportunities. He told the story of his attempt to convince a bank to hire black tellers. That was unheard of at the time. The response from the bank was for him to go find someone who could do the job.
Dr. Walker told us he went to a credit union, where he found a young African American teller. He collected her credentials and presented them to the bank. The good news is the bank agreed to hire her. The bad news is the way she was treated by her fellow employees. While we have to remember the time and the culture during that period, the treatment was awful. She was made to feel very unwelcome. She would bring her lunch to work, hoping to enjoy it in the bank's breakroom. But that was not possible. Her fellow employees, according to Dr. Walker, would literally trash her lunch. They would find garbage and scraps, and put those items in her lunch, making it impossible for her to eat.
She eventually left Arkansas for a position in Portland. She was later recruited for community economic development in Oregon where she enjoyed success, and later in Atlanta, where she became very successful.
Problems with race relations continue to bubble under the surface in Arkansas today. But it's worth taking a moment to think about this woman,  Dr. Walker, and Governor Rockefeller. They all, in their own way, blazed a small path.
If you'd like more information about the life and work of Governor Rockefeller, you'll find it at
If you want to know more about Dr. Walker, you'll find it at:
I found talking to Dr. Walker captivating, as I heard him reflect on those times. No one liked him. Not the blacks, not the whites. As he reflected back, he now realizes that he might have even put his family in danger.
Walker will speak tonight as part of a panel discussion at UAPB. It is at 6pm, free, and open to the public.

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