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This Day in History – September 24, 1977

John T. Walker becomes the first black bishop of the Episcopal diocese of Washington, D.C.

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On this day in 1977, John T. Walker became the first black bishop of the Episcopal diocese of Washington.

Born in 1925, Walker grew up in Chicago in a very religious family. Both his grandfather and great-grandfather served as ministers. However, in the late 1940’s, when Walker went off to college, he drifted away from the church and instead began to focus on political issues.

At 23 years ago, he joined the Episcopal Church and attended Virginia Seminary Institute. He was then assigned to Detroit’s St. Mary’s Parish and later taught at a private high school in New Hampshire, St. Paul’s School.

At the time, churches were still very segregated and black priests were very few. Walker is quoted as sayings, “You have to give them a faith to live by, help break them from enslavement, be it economic, political, or emotional. I think being black means I understand enslavement and rejection as well as anybody else.”

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Additionally, he worked to raise funds to fight poverty. After being named the bishop of the Episcopalian Diocese of Washington, D.C, he committed himself to social and political issues such as homelessness, inflation, and crime.

he served on the board of trustees of the Black Student Fund from 1969 to 1976. The organization focused on providing support and funding to D.C.’s schoolchildren and their families.

He was then named dean of the National Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul in Washing. This marked the first time in over 50 years that the Episcopal bishop of Washington also held the office of dean.

President George W. Bush honoring Walker at the annual Bishop John T. Walker Dinner Memorial Gala

Walker died at the age of 64 in 1989.

In 1990, the Black Student Fund established the Bishop John T. Walker Awards in recognition of his “exemplary leadership, his moral commitment to an integrated society, and his unselfish devotion to serve all people in the Washington Metropolitan community.”

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