You can make a pretty good case that the best preacher Augusta ever had was a short former slave who started life as an orphan.
But the life and success of the Rev. C.T. Walker demonstrates oh so well that the Lord can get the most out of many who start out with the least.
Charles Thomas Walker was born a slave in Hephzibah in 1858. His father died the day before was born and his mother passed away before he reached age 10.
That didn’t stop him.
Using the Christian church and his family for support, Walker moved on with his education at schools set up for the children of former slaves.
It wasn’t long before his calling to become a minister displaced other ambitions. He entered Augusta Institute – which later moved to Atlanta to become Morehouse College – for ministerial training.
A small man, 5 feet 6 inches – Walker was big in the pulpit, quickly gaining a reputation for oratory.
After preaching three years in LaGrange, Ga., Walker returned to Augusta in 1883. In 1885, then 27, he helped organize Tabernacle Baptist Church, one of the most influential churches to be founded in Augusta.
Walker not only saved souls, he informed them. He began one of Augusta’s first minority newspapers, Augusta Sentinel, in 1884.
Dr. Walker’s opposition to the “separate but equal” status of American blacks became more pronounced after his pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 1891.
On his return to America, Dr. Walker wrote about the irony of an already burgeoning immigrant class that seemed to outdo blacks born in the United States.
“These very people come to America to supersede the Negro and to boss him!” he wrote.
The frustration of watching poor, white immigrants succeeding where blacks failed because of racism became a recurring theme in Dr. Walker’s talks after he moved to New York City to be pastor of Mount Olive Baptist Church in 1899.
By 1900, Dr. Walker boldly declared blacks could not hope to escape the evil of racism by migrating North.
“It was a mistake for blacks to leave the South, since prejudice was national and not sectional,” he said.
During a speech the same year at New York’s Carnegie Hall, the minister outlined the state of African-American affairs.
“The Negro is an American citizen,” declared the minister to an audience of 8,000. “The amendment to the Constitution did not make us men; God made us men before man made us citizens!”
Such radical turn-of-the century views conflicted with the cautious approach prescribed by the more conservative Booker T. Washington.
Yet the minister continued, mingling his message of equality with converting souls to Jesus Christ. According to newspaper accounts of the time, dozens, sometimes hundreds, at a time would heed the call to change their lives in respect of God.
One, John D. Rockefeller, one of the most influential if not richest men in America, loved to hear him preach.
Returning to Augusta in 1901, the minister continued his missionary work of education and compassion, strengthening opportunities for black children and offering a voice for the voiceless.
In 1909, Dr. Walker was asked to introduce President-elect William Howard Taft at the YMCA the minister founded on Ninth Street.
Such would become the legend of Dr. Walker before his death at age 63 in 1921. Today, through Tabernacle Baptist Church – the center of Augusta’s fledgling civil rights efforts – and C.T. Walker Traditional Magnet School, that work continues.
When he died in 1921, The New York Times reported his death with sympathy and praise.
Almost a century later, Augusta honors him with the name of magnet school of exceptional young students.
What better way to serve our community’s future?