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William "Sonny" Walker

Civil rights activist, nonprofit chief executive, and management consulting entrepreneur William “Sonny” Walker was born in Pine Bluff, Arkansas. He received his B.A. degree from the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff and went on to teach in Arkansas public schools. In 1956, in the wake of the Brown vs. Board U.S. Supreme Court decisions, Walker helped to prepare the Little Rock Nine to integrate Little Rock Central High School. Walker went on to manage the campaign of T. E. Patterson, the first African American elected to the Arkansas School Board.

In 1965, Walker started the Crusade for Opportunity, one of the first Head Start programs in the U.S. and then began serving as director of the Economic Opportunity Agency of Little Rock and Pulsaki County. Throughout this time, Walker worked to promote integration of everything from television news anchors to the local chapter of the United States Junior Chamber. In 1969, Walker began serving as Governor Winthrop Rockefeller’s head of the Arkansas State Economic Opportunity Office. He was the first African American to hold such a position in a Southern governor’s cabinet.

Walker moved to Atlanta, Georgia in 1972, and began serving as a division director for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Renewal. In 1976, Walker became a member of the Board of Directors for the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change. Walker eventually became Coretta Scott-King’ speech writer and in 1994, he served as interim director of the King Center. Walker went on to found the consulting company the Sonny Walker Group, which specializes in networking, marketing, and employee training.

Walker was a member of the board of trustees of Morris-Brown College, the board of directors of the Butler Street YMCA, the EduPac Action Committee, and the Georgia Partnership for Education Excellence. He was heavily involved with many other community organizations and received numerous awards, including the Community Service Award from the Atlanta Business League, the Distinguished Community Service Award from the National Urban League, the Outstanding Public Servant in the State of Georgia Award from the Georgia Senate and House of Representatives, and the Lyndon B. Johnson Award from the National Association of Community Action Agencies.

William “Sonny” Walker was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on April 21, 2011.

Walker passed away on June 15, 2016.

Accession Number

A2011.029

Sex

Male

Interview Date

4/21/2011 |and| 3/18/2012

Last Name

Walker

Maker Category
Marital Status

Divorced

Middle Name

"Sonny"

Schools

Merrill Junior High School

University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff

Arizona State University

University of Oklahoma

University of Arkansas

Federal Executive Institute

First Name

William

Birth City, State, Country

Pine Bluff

HM ID

WAL15

Favorite Season

Fall, Spring

State

Arkansas

Favorite Vacation Destination

West Indies

Favorite Quote

Out Of The Night That Covers Me, Black As The Pit From Pole To Pole, I Thank Whatever Gods May Be, For My Unconquerable Soul.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Georgia

Birth Date

12/13/1933

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Atlanta

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Seafood

Death Date

6/15/2016

Short Description

Management consulting entrepreneur, civil rights activist, and nonprofit chief executive William "Sonny" Walker (1933 - 2016 ) fought for integration during the Civil Rights Movement, worked to promote increased economic opportunity through various federal agencies and programs. He also served as an important member of the board of the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change, and worked as Coretta Scott-King's speech writer. Walker passed away on June 15, 2016.

Employment

Arkansas Public School System

United States Department of Housing and Urban Development

Arkansas State Government

Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change

Office of Economic Opportunity

National Alliance of Business

Sonny Walker Group

Favorite Color

Cream, Crimson

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of William "Sonny" Walker's interview, session 1

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - William "Sonny" Walker lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - William "Sonny" Walker describes his father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - William "Sonny" Walker talks about his father's education and career

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - William "Sonny" Walker remembers his paternal grandparents

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - William "Sonny" Walker describes his paternal great-grandparents

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - William "Sonny" Walker remembers his paternal great-grandmother's immediate relatives

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - William "Sonny" Walker remembers his paternal great-great-grandfather

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - William "Sonny" Walker describes his mother's family background

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - William "Sonny" Walker remembers meeting his mother

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - William "Sonny" Walker describes his stepmother, Nettie Harris Walker

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - William "Sonny" Walker talks about his half sister

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - William "Sonny" Walker describes the sights, sounds and smells of childhood

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - William "Sonny" Walker talks about his early education

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - William "Sonny" Walker remembers the influential people from his youth

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - William "Sonny" Walker remembers World War II

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - William "Sonny" Walker recalls his experiences during the Great Depression

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - William "Sonny" Walker remembers the end of World War II

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - William "Sonny" Walker describes his extracurricular activities

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - William "Sonny" Walker recalls attending Merrill High School in Pine Bluff, Arkansas

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - William "Sonny" Walker describes his early after school jobs

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - William "Sonny" Walker recalls his decision to attend the Arkansas Agricultural, Mechanical and Normal College in Pine Bluff, Arkansas

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - William "Sonny" Walker remembers attending Arkansas Agricultural, Mechanical and Normal College

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - William "Sonny" Walker remembers his influences at Arkansas Agricultural, Mechanical and Normal College in Pine Bluff, Arkansas

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - William "Sonny" Walker recalls his connection to Thurgood Marshall

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - William "Sonny" Walker describes his former wife Loraine Tate and their children

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - William "Sonny" Walker talks about the racial climate in Arkansas during the 1950s

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - William "Sonny" Walker recalls teaching in Little Rock, Arkansas

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - William "Sonny" Walker describes the discrimination faced by the Little Rock Nine

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - William "Sonny" Walker talks about members of the Little Rock Nine

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - William "Sonny" Walker remembers Ozell Sutton

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - William "Sonny" Walker recalls his time as president of the Arkansas Teachers Association Department of Classroom Teachers

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - William "Sonny" Walker remembers advocating for equal pay for teachers

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - William "Sonny" Walker describes the violence of the mid-1960s

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - William "Sonny" Walker recalls meeting President Bill Clinton and First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - William "Sonny" Walker describes his involvement with Crusade for Opportunity

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - William Sonny Walker recalls his role with the National Head Start Association

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - William "Sonny" Walker recalls his efforts to desegregate in Little Rock, Arkansas

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - William "Sonny" Walker talks about the assassination of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - William "Sonny" Walker recalls disarming the Black United Youth group in Little Rock, Arkansas

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - William "Sonny" Walker describes Dale Bumper's gubernatorial campaign

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - William "Sonny" Walker recalls working for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Slating of William "Sonny" Walker's interview, session 2

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - William "Sonny" Walker remembers his move to Atlanta, Georgia

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - William "Sonny" Walker describes the growth of Atlanta, Georgia in the 1970s

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - William "Sonny" Walker recalls his role with the Office of Economic Opportunity

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - William "Sonny" Walker remembers affirmative action initiatives under the Richard Nixon administration

Tape: 7 Story: 6 - William "Sonny" Walker recalls the changes in the Democratic Party during the 1970s

Tape: 7 Story: 7 - William "Sonny" Walker remembers the changes in the national political landscape in the 1970s

Tape: 7 Story: 8 - William "Sonny" Walker describes the political landscape of Atlanta, Georgia in the 1970s

Tape: 7 Story: 9 - William "Sonny" Walker recalls Maynard H. Jackson, Jr.'s mayoral campaign in Atlanta, Georgia

Tape: 8 Story: 1 - William "Sonny" Walker recalls transitioning to the National Alliance of Business

Tape: 8 Story: 2 - William "Sonny" Walker talks about his support of African American owned banks in the South

Tape: 8 Story: 3 - William "Sonny" Walker describes his work with the National Alliance of Business

Tape: 8 Story: 4 - William "Sonny" Walker talks about working with the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change

Tape: 8 Story: 5 - William "Sonny" Walker recalls improving Coretta Scott King's public speaking skills

Tape: 8 Story: 6 - William "Sonny" Walker talks about the formation of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change

Tape: 8 Story: 7 - William "Sonny" Walker remembers the activities created to memorialize Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Tape: 8 Story: 8 - William "Sonny" Walker talks about working with Stevie Wonder, Harry Belafonte and Nelson Mandela

Tape: 8 Story: 9 - William "Sonny" Walker recalls becoming director of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change

Tape: 9 Story: 1 - William "Sonny" Walker describes the historic Auburn Avenue in Atlanta, Georgia

Tape: 9 Story: 2 - William "Sonny" Walker recalls the leadership changes at The King Center in Atlanta, Georgia

Tape: 9 Story: 3 - William "Sonny" Walker talks about the future of The King Center

Tape: 9 Story: 4 - William "Sonny" Walker describes his decision to support Hillary Rodham Clinton's 2008 presidential campaign

Tape: 9 Story: 5 - William "Sonny" Walker shares his views of President Barack Obama's administration

Tape: 9 Story: 6 - William "Sonny" Walker describes his civic involvement in the Atlanta, Georgia

Tape: 9 Story: 7 - William "Sonny" Walker talks about his consultant work at Sonny Walker Group

Tape: 9 Story: 8 - William "Sonny" Walker describes his hopes for the African American community

Tape: 10 Story: 1 - William "Sonny" Walker remembers the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia

Tape: 10 Story: 2 - William "Sonny" Walker talks about the Atlanta Missing and Murdered Children cases

Tape: 10 Story: 3 - William "Sonny" Walker reflects upon his legacy

Tape: 10 Story: 4 - William "Sonny" Walker reflects upon his life

Tape: 10 Story: 5 - William "Sonny" Walker describes how he would like to be remembered

DASession

1$1

DATape

4$5

DAStory

6$1

DATitle
William "Sonny" Walker describes the discrimination faced by the Little Rock Nine
William "Sonny" Walker remembers Ozell Sutton
Transcript
Well, let's go back--$$Okay (simultaneous).$$--(simultaneous) before they actually get in, because you get to teach them [at Horace Mann High School; Horace Mann Magnet Middle School, Little Rock, Arkansas]. You said four of the nine?$$I taught five of the nine.$$Five of the nine. Tell me who they were, and how you were instrumental in preparing them to transfer to go to Central [Central High School, Little Rock, Arkansas].$$Well, you know, it was more than just--the preparation was more than just what was occurring in the classroom, because the students were identified based on their academic excellence. So we tried to take the best, because we wanted them to succeed. A woman named Daisy Bates, who was head of NAACP [National Association for the Advancement of Colored People], was the guiding force behind that, and a number of persons in the community, including [HistoryMaker] Ozell Sutton who was working with the Arkansas human relations commission [Arkansas Council on Human Relations]. I had been working as a sports writer for Mrs. Bates' newspaper, the State Press [Arkansas State Press], so she brought me into the process to a great extent. They had a number of other folks, especially NAACP related persons that helped in trying to chart a course for these nine kids. We also had to involve their families, because much of what was going on resulted in reparations, re- repercussions and resistance to the rights of those families. In other words, sometimes the father would lose his job. Sometimes the mother would lose her job, and that kind of thing, as a result of integrating the schools. So, those were the kinds of things that we had to deal with in addition to preparing them academically, mentally and emotionally, for going there. We tried to tell them, we were going to try to instill some of the King [Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.] principles of nonviolence in them. Now, because they hit you, don't hit them back. But we didn't get across to Minnijean Brown [Minnijean Brown Trickey] very well, because some guy put some chili, threw some chili on Minnijean, and Minnijean took, threw chili back. And so, there were some who didn't accept well being abused and intimidated by some of the students who didn't want them there. So, it was quite a time in '57 [1957]. The crowds were jeering the students as they would come in. And I'm sure you saw the--I taught Elizabeth Eckford, and I'm sure you saw when she was isolated by herself, and there was this crowd jeering this young girl. She was frightened, didn't know what to do, she was isolated from the others. They usually tried to go in together, but somehow she got separated from the other eight, and was alone, and it wasn't a very pleasant kind of experience for her. But, Little Rock [Arkansas] in '57 [1957] was really something. But the thing that I think is unknown, or not, with very little emphasis placed on it, was not '57 [1957], '58 [1958], which was the first year that black students left to go to Little Rock Central, but the really tumultuous year was '58 [1958], '59 [1959], the school year of '58 [1958], '59 [959]. Do you realize that there is no such thing as a '59 [1959] graduate of a Little Rock public school? The high schools did not open in '58 [1958]. Rather than continue the integration that they had in '57 [1957], the board decided to close the high schools--close, which affected not just African American kids, but all students. And this is what really brought out white parents, especially mothers, who said, "We're paying the price for all this discrimination and resistance to integration." And they had a panel of American women that were formed, and they went around and spoke to audiences about the fact that they needed to go on and accept the fact that integration is real, it's here, it's the order of the court, and there's no point in us trying to further resist it. Let's just be supportive of it, and hope that we have the best environment for all of our children in the school system. But no graduate-- can you imagine, I want to reiterate it. I repeat it for emphasis. No graduate of the public schools in Little Rock in 1959 because the schools, high schools, did not open in the fall of '58 [1958]. So [HistoryMaker] Ernest Green, who was the first graduate, was in the graduating class of '58 [1958], because he was the only senior that was with the nine, the only one of the nine who was in the senior class, so he graduated and the others were put on hold. They had to go other places, go to parochial schools, go to the county schools, go to St. Louis [Missouri], Chicago [Illinois]--somewhere where there was a relative so they could continue to be in school. But they couldn't go to high school in their own home towns. What a crime, what a shame, but that was the case.$You mentioned [HistoryMaker] Ozell Sutton. And he, I know that he also wrote for one of the newspapers, as you did as well. Is he a friend of yours?$$Ozell I consider to be my longest existing and best friend. We are very, very close. We worked together in Little Rock [Arkansas]. He was with the Arkansas Council on Human Relations. But we also attended the same church, so we got a chance to see--and then with me working with Mrs. Bates [Daisy Bates] as a staff writer for her paper [Arkansas State Press]. And Ozell was on the staff of the Democrat [Arkansas Democrat-Gazette], which was the major white paper. Ozell was the first journalist to be hired by them. And together, we worked to integrate the television and radio industry. We almost singlehandedly, the two of us, working with the assistance of a guy named Lonnie King [Lonnie C. King, Jr.] from Atlanta [Georgia] who was under contract with the Community Relations Service, and who helped us to chart a course to get public, to get public television stations as well as radio stations to hire African Americans. And this required a lot of time, a lot of effort, a lot of energy, a lot of convincing, a lot of cajoling, and whatever. So Ozell and I worked very closely together. And Ozell became employed as a special assistant to Governor Winthrop Rockefeller. As a matter of fact, although I was designated as the first black cabinet appointee, Ozell was on the governor's staff when I was appointed, so he got there first, before I did. And Ozell was, of course, was an advocate for me because there was opposition. Some folks thought I was too militant to be part of the governor's cabinet, but the governor didn't buy into that, and Ozell, of course, was one of the strong advocates inside on my behalf. When we chose to come to Atlanta, we came at the same time. He came with the Community Relations Service in the [U.S.] Department of Justice, and I came with the Office of Economic Opportunity for the eight southeastern states. And we were offered the opportunity to occupy the home of a guy named T.M. Alexander, Jr., who was being assigned to HUD [U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development] in Washington [D.C.], and so because he and Janis [Janis Alexander] had this home and they didn't want to sell it, because they didn't know how long they'd be gone. They asked Ozell and myself to occupy their residence for them. And so we moved into their home when we came.$$What year was that?$$This was '72 [1972].$$Okay (simultaneous).$$(Simultaneous) Nineteen seventy-two [1972].$$Okay.$$Um-hm.$$So we'll talk more about that when we get to the 1970s, okay (simultaneous)?$$(Simultaneous) Okay.