A mission to mark the grave of the first Black Canadian-born lawyer has finally been accomplished.
Abraham Beverley Walker was honoured last Thursday with the unveiling of a headstone in the Church of England cemetery on Thorne Avenue in Saint John.
Walker’s career as a lawyer in Saint John was derailed by discrimination he faced for being Black. He eventually became a civil rights activist and newspaper publisher.
The lawyer and activist died in 1909, and while his grave previously had a marker, it had deteriorated and his resting place was left unmarked.
Abraham Beverley Walker’s grave is now marked with a headstone that honours his legacy and contribution as a civil rights activist.
Peter Little, who wrote a biography of Walker, compared Walker’s legacy to that of Martin Luther King Jr.
“Much like another man who would pick up the torch of freedom fifty years after Abraham’s passing, his quest for human, equal rights was based on non-violence, reason, logic, history even, and Christian love for his fellow man,” said Little.
A painting of Walker created by Nova Scotian artist Letitia Fraser was also presented at the unveiling.
Anti-racism group Prude Inc. took on the responsibility of fundraising for the headstone and was able to surpass their initial goal of $6,000. The organization received over $12,000 in donations from across Canada and internationally.
In addition to the headstone, the group was able to purchase a plaque that will be placed at Saint John’s Law Courts building.
The University of New Brunswick’s Abraham Walker Scholarship will be created and awarded to a first-year law student with a caveat that a Black student be given preference.
Damon Levine, a program developer at Prude Inc, said the unveiling of the headstone is a step in the right direction to filling the gaps left in history books.
“Had race relations in North America had not been what they are, A.B. Walker would be known to every school child in Canada,” said Levine. “But, in his day, a man of his intelligence, and wherewithal, and drive and determination, was forgotten about, swept over in the history books simply because he was Black.”
“A.B. Walker and quite a few other Black New Brunswickers are an example of Black grit and determination in the face of overwhelming odds,” said Levine. “It’s something to be proud of.”