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Grave of first Canadian-born Black lawyer finally gets headstone in Saint John

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A mission to mark the grave of the first Black Canadian-born lawyer has finally been accomplished. 

Abraham Beverley Walker was honoured 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. 2:01

The initiative to purchase a new headstone was brought forth by a group of lawyers who wanted Walker to receive the recognition he deserves. 

The the headstone unveiling Thursday began with a prayer led by the founding member of the New Brunswick Black History Society, Ralph Thomas.  

The New Brunswick Black History Society’s Ralph Thomas, left, and Peter Little, right, unveil a headstone honouring Abraham Beverley Walker. (Graham Thompson)

Peter Little, who wrote a biography of Walker and is also a board member of the New Brunswick Black History Society, spoke at the unveiling and 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 portrait of Abraham Beverley Walker created by Letitia Fraser will be displayed at the New Brunswick Black History Society. (Graham Thompson)

A painting of Walker created by Nova Scotian artist Letitia Fraser was also presented at the unveiling.  Based on the sole existing picture of Walker, it was commissioned by The Maritime Edit magazine and will be displayed at the New Brunswick Black History Society. 

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.

Remaining funds were donated to the University of New Brunswick’s Abraham Walker Scholarship. The $5,000 scholarship is awarded to a first-year law student and now will include 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. 

Damon Levine, program developer at anti-racism group Prude Inc, hosted the unveiling of a headstone honouring Abraham Beverley Walker in Saint John. (Graham Thompson)

“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.”

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

(CBC)

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