Cathedral Dean Francis B. Sayre and the Rt. Rev. John Thomas Walker—one white, the other black—were in the vanguard of the twin movements for civil rights in America and racial justice in the world.
Dean Sayre walked with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in the March to Selma in 1965. Bishop Walker, sixth bishop of Washington, was a major voice in the struggle to end apartheid, leading peaceful public protests and marches, and exerting behind-the-scenes moral suasion. In 1985, he was arrested in front of the South African Embassy in Washington, D.C., while demonstrating against apartheid. Already he was looking ahead, saying, “We need to work as though we were already in the time of transition from apartheid to a democratic system.”
Nelson Mandela was released from prison five months after Bishop Walker’s sudden death in September 1989. Like Dr. King, who cautioned on the night before he was killed that “I may not get to there with you,” Walker did not live to see his friend’s first steps into the sunlight, but his life’s work helped pave the road for Mandela’s long walk to freedom.
Walker was also a good friend of South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Mandela’s neighbor and fellow Nobel laureate. From 1975 until his death, Walker served as president of the board of directors of Africare. The organization now presents the Bishop John T. Walker Distinguished Humanitarian Service Award each year in his honor.