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Sun, 08.01.1858

Alexander Walters, Bishop, and Activist born

Alexander Walters

*Alexander Walters was born on this date in 1858.  He was a Black clergyman and civil rights leader.  

Walters was born in Bardstown, Kentucky, the oldest son of Henry and Harriet Walters. He was educated at a private school taught by a number of teachers. In 1871 he moved to Louisville, Kentucky where he worked as a waiter in private homes, hotels, and on steamboats.  He was valedictorian of his high school class in 1875. Within two years, he was licensed to preach by the A.M.E. Zion Quarterly Conference, serving pastorates in Indianapolis, Louisville, San Francisco, Portland, Oregon, Chattanooga, and Knoxville, Tennessee, before his assignment to Mother Zion Church in New York City in 1888. 

 In 1889, the Walters was selected to represent the Zion Church in London at the World's Sunday School Convention and went on to visit other parts of Europe, Egypt, and Israel. In May 1892, he was elected bishop of the Seventh District of the General Conference of the A.M.E. Zion Church, meeting in Pittsburgh.  While in New York, he became acquainted with journalist Timothy Thomas Fortune, who was in the process of organizing his National Afro-American League, designed to protect Blacks against lynching and racial discrimination. Walters immediately endorsed the League, which met in early 1890 in Knoxville but went defunct by 1893.   

In 1898, he became the first president of the National Afro-American Council, serving in that post for most of the next decade.  In 1908, Walters refused an offer by W. E. B. Du Bois merge the Council with the Niagara Movement and two other organizations. Walters angered many Black followers by endorsing Democratic presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan in 1908. The Council soon dissolved, but Walters wasted little time seeking a new power base, emerging as president of the new National Independent Political League. In the 1910s, he became a member of both the new National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the National Urban League.  Walters traveled abroad frequently, including frequent trips to London, where he attended the Pan-African Conference in 1900 giving a paper entitled "The Trials and Tribulations of the Colored Race in America" and visited West Africa in 1910 and the Caribbean in 1911.

A well-respected figure internationally, he declined an offer in 1915 by U.S. President Woodrow Wilson to become U.S. minister to Liberia. Walters died on February 2, 1917, in New York City, of natural causes. Walters was married three times and had six children. His first wife, Katie Knox Walters, died in 1896; his second wife, Emeline Virginia Byrd Walters, died in 1902. He was survived by his third wife, Lelia Coleman Walters. Following his death, his widow was employed as a clerk for the United States Bureau of Immigration on Ellis Island. The couple's son, Hillis Walters was an actor during the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s and 1930s and, later, a composer. His most successful composition was the song "Pass Me By" (1946), with lyrics by Mercer Ellington. It was recorded by Lena Horne, Carmen McRae, and Peggy Lee.

His funeral was at Zion Church; his eulogy was said by Bishop G. W. Clinton, while services were conducted by Bishop J. S. Caldwell and assisted by Rev J. W. Brown.  Bishop Walters is buried in Brooklyn, New York, in Mother Zion's Cypress Hill Cemetery.

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