Canada

Tombstone finally marks grave of New Brunswick’s first Black lawyer

SAINT JOHN, N.B. —
A gravestone was unveiled at the Church of England cemetery in Saint John on Thursday morning to mark the final resting place of the first-Canadian born Black lawyer.

Dozens of people turned out for the ceremony along Thorne Avenue honouring Abraham Walker, who died more than 100-years-ago and was previously buried in an unmarked grave.

“Although a man of well-documented intelligence and recognized legal proficiency, Walker’s prospects were diminished by the biased racial attitudes at the time,” said Damon Levine, program developer for P.R.U.D.E., speaking to the crowd.

“He died here in the city, at his home on City Road, in 1909.”

The effort to get a headstone for Walker was led by a group of lawyers, who worked with P.R.U.D.E., which is an acronym for Pride, Race, Unity, Dignity, and Education, and the New Brunswick Black History Society to make this a reality.

“We promote the idea of everybody being equal before the law,” said president of the New Brunswick Law Society Rick Williams.

“Mr. Walker was clearly not treated properly no matter how you look at it.”

Abraham Walker was born in New Brunswick in 1851. He studied at National University in Washington, D.C., before moving back to his home province where he opened a law office of his own on Princess Street in Saint John.

“Sadly, a successful law career was not in the cards for Abraham,” said amateur historian Peter Little, who has written a book about the life of Walker.

“Because systemic racism in 19th century New was like a millstone around the neck of his aspirations.”

Walker was called to the bar in 1882, a year after being recognized as an attorney by the Supreme Court of New Brunswick – but would continue to face racism throughout his career.

However, momentum has been building in recent years for more recognition for Walker – who, along with being the first Canadian-born Black lawyer – was also the first Black student to enrol in the Saint John Law School, which is now the Faculty of Law at the University of New Brunswick, and the first Black New Brunswicker to publish a magazine.

In 2019, Walker was posthumously awarded the Order of New Brunswick, which is the highest civilian honour in the province.

As well, earlier this year, Saint John city council voted to look into commemorating the contributions of Abraham Walker on New Brunswick’s Port City.


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