Abraham Beverley Walker, considered the first Canadian-born black lawyer, will be honoured posthumously with the Order of New Brunswick this week in Fredericton. (Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Ground-breaking Canadian black lawyer to finally be honoured in New Brunswick

FREDERICTON — Abraham Beverley Walker is considered the first Canadian-born black lawyer, but a New Brunswick historian says Walker’s accomplishments have been all but forgotten by history.

That’s about to change — Walker will be honoured posthumously with the Order of New Brunswick this week in Fredericton.

“This is to right a wrong,” said historian Peter Little. “I think it was a terrible injustice how he was treated. He was alive and then swept into the dust bin of history after he died.”

Little had never heard of Walker until he was asked to do some research for the New Brunswick Black History Society.

He learned that Walker was born near Saint John, N.B. in August 1851, and educated locally before studying law at the National University Law School in Washington D.C.

Walker became an attorney of the Supreme Court of New Brunswick in 1881 and was called to the bar the following year.

Little said Walker later took some courses at the Saint John Law School, becoming the first student of colour to enrol.

Walker opened a law practice in Saint John but he faced much racism, making it hard to get clients, and the practice foundered after just a few years.

The local black community circulated a petition in 1896 or 1897 to get Walker the designation of Queen’s Counsel.

“He was told that he would be getting it but when the local white lawyers found about it, they complained to the government and said ‘If you give him that designation then you can take ours back,’ — so he was dropped off the list,” Little said.

He said Walker was later promised designation of King’s Counsel, but that also didn’t happen.

Little said there were many examples of how white lawyers resented him. In one instance, there was a big gala for the law society and every lawyer in the city was invited except Abraham Walker.

“He had a tough row to hoe,” Little said. ”He would be the only New Brunswick black lawyer for another for 122 years.”

After closing his practice, Walker went to Atlanta for a few years and then returned to Saint John to serve as the law society librarian.

He also published a magazine called “Neith.” Five editions were printed.

But Walker’s time in Atlanta had fuelled an interest in the civil rights movement and he started lecturing all over North America.

“He was an extremely intelligent man. He spoke five languages fluently and said he had a passing knowledge in four others,” Little said.

Abraham Walker died of tuberculosis in 1909, just shy of turning 60 years old.

Little began searching for any family of Walker two-and-a-half years ago, learning that while Walker had five children, four of them died at a young age.

That search hit a dead-end until just a matter of weeks ago when Little received a phone call from Debbie Little (no relation to Peter) who is Walker’s granddaughter and lives in Michigan.

She will be making the trek to New Brunswick with her son to attend the investiture ceremony on Wednesday for Walker and nine others.

Established in December 2000, the Order of New Brunswick is the highest honour of the Province of New Brunswick. It recognizes individuals who have made outstanding contributions to the social, cultural or economic well-being of New Brunswick and its residents.

Peter Little said while he will be accepting the award on behalf of Walker, he plans to then give it to the family where it belongs.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Canada lost 1,011,000 jobs in March, unemployment rate up to 7.8%: StatCan

OTTAWA — Statistics Canada reports the economy lost 1,011,000 jobs in March… Continue reading

Here’s a quick glance at unemployment rates for March, by Canadian city

OTTAWA — The national unemployment rate was 7.8 per cent in March.… Continue reading

WestJet bringing workers pack on payroll with help of wage subsidy program

CALGARY — WestJet says it plans to bring back nearly 6,400 employees… Continue reading

Researchers to study whether plasma of recovered patients can treat COVID-19

MONTREAL — Researchers from across Canada will collaborate on a vast clinical… Continue reading

UPDATE: Canadians awake to extra COVID-19 emergency benefit money, feds clarify changes

The CRA and federal officials are working to clarify the confusion around payments

Alberta Health Services provides COVID-19 prevention tips

Alberta Health Services has a number of recommendations for people amid the… Continue reading

Alberta government website has latest COVID-19 statistics

Red Deer Advocate readers can stay up to date on the COVID-19… Continue reading

Message from RE/MAX Commercial: What to do when ‘sorry we’re temporarily closed’ is part of your business as landlord or tenant

Do you have questions about rent reductions or deferral of lease payments? Experts can help

Jim Nantz adjusting to not calling Final Four, Masters

Jim Nantz couldn’t figure out why he was getting text messages from… Continue reading

Armed Forces reports 20 military suicides last year, largest number since 2014

Armed Forces reports 20 military suicides last year, largest number since 2014

‘Little to do with COVID:’ Landowners, law experts criticize well cleanup bill

‘Little to do with COVID:’ Landowners, law experts criticize well cleanup bill

First troops return from Ukraine, in quarantine at Ontario military base

First troops return from Ukraine, in quarantine at Ontario military base

Man charged after licking product in store as part of ‘COVID Challenge:’ police

Man charged after licking product in store as part of ‘COVID Challenge:’ police

Most Read