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Fri, 06.14.1918

LeRoy T. Walker, Educator, and Coach born

LeRoy T. Walker

*LeRoy T. Walker was born on this date in 1918.  He was a Black educator, coach, administrator, and the first Black president of the United States Olympic Committee.

Born in Atlanta, Georgia, the grandson of slaves and the youngest of 13 children in a close-knit family. His mother, Mary, always told him not to worry about the difficulties and to just keep pushing and honing his talents; recognition by others would follow. After his father, a fireman on the railroad, died when he was nine, his older brother, Joe, chose the littlest Walker to live with him in Harlem.

As a youth he worked in the family's barbecue restaurant and window cleaning businesses to earn money during the Great Depression. A strong father-figure, His brother Joe taught an iron work ethic and never permitted him to rationalize in spite of prejudice. This attitude of perseverance provided Walker with inner strength to deal with subtle Northern discrimination and Southern racial segregation.  Walker returned to Georgia for his senior year of high school. 

At Benedict College in Columbia, South Carolina, Walker earned 11 letters in football, basketball, and track and field. He graduated in three and one-half years in 1940, majoring in science and romance languages. Only Meharry and Harvard medical schools were open to Blacks, and because he missed the registration cycle, Walker decided to work with people through a program in health and physical education at Columbia University. He studied under Jesse F. Williams and received an M.S. degree a year later.  After one-year periods as chair of departments of physical education and of recreation and head track coach at Benedict and Bishop Colleges, Walker went to Prairie View University. While there he also directed the Army Specialized Training Program (ASTP) as a military training officer at night after teaching and coaching by day.

Walker then accepted a one-year appointment as a football and basketball coach at North Carolina Central College in Durham in 1945. After gaining valuable professional experience, Walker returned to graduate school at New York University, receiving his Ph.D. in 1957. At North Carolina Central, Walker had started a track and field program as an off-season training program for his football and basketball players. This event led to a successful career as a legendary track coach. He coached 11 Olympic medalists and sent track and field athletes to every Olympic Games from 1956 to 1980. In addition to coaching NCCU, he coached track teams from other countries. Israel and Ethiopia in 1960, Trinidad and Tobago in 1964, Jamaica in 1968, and Kenya in 1972. The last team he led to the Olympic Games was for the United States in 1976. The team included Caitlyn Jenner (then Bruce) and Edwin Moses. 

He served as the honorary chair of the Board of Directors of the Africa News Service, based in Durham North Carolina.  In the 1996 Olympics, Walker lead a 10,000-member group of the most talented athletes in the world. His goal was to make sure that American citizens have a feeling of ownership in the program, saying, “We ought to keep them informed. We ought to let them know what the Olympic movement is all about and what’s happening to the dollars that they give.”  He had a daughter, Dr. Carolyn Walker Hopp, and a son, LeRoy T. Walker Jr. His home was in Durham, NC. Katherine, his wife, died in 1978. 

Walker was a member of Omega Psi Phi fraternity.  In 1991 Walker was awarded the Eagle Award from the United States Sports Academy. The Eagle Award is the Academy's highest international honor and was awarded to Walker for his significant contributions to international sport.  Leroy Walker died on April 23, 2012.  


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