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It’s no secret that I hail from the north, Detroit, Michigan to be exact. I missed out on many things that took place in the South—especially those impacting the nation as a whole. I’ve lived in the South eight years now and some things still amaze, baffle and educate me. It’s almost embarrassing to say that I’d never heard of the legendary Freedom Riders.
When the news was shared with me about the recent death of Freedom Rider Mathew Walker, Jr., pictures of motorcycle advocates came to mind. There are actually those like me who were not fully informed that they were not cyclists. They were (and are for the few who remain) brave men who educated the masses on civil rights via peaceful demonstrations, protests and sit-ins. The group didn’t discriminate and allowed women to join in the tireless fight. The key to them being named ‘Freedom Riders’ was for the often dangerous, turmoil-laced bus rides they took throughout the south promoting civil rights. Matthew Walker was a pivotal leader and cultivator of all things freedom. It’s easy to see how Freudian tongue slips like ‘freedom fighters’ could seem so natural.
Matthew Walker, Jr. is described by friends and all who spoke at his epic home-going service as a staunch warrior and a good friend to the end. He was among the civil rights activists who changed the face of bus travel nationwide. The relentless activist took part in one of the first and largest lunch counter sit-in protests in the nation and later joined the Freedom Riders.
God allowed a beautiful day for those who traveled from far and near, to pay their respects.
Known or unknown, his legacy and reality of what the Freedom Riders lived and fought for will remain key in the lives of many. Any person of color should say an extra prayer of thanks and gratitude when traveling (especially by bus) because of the Freedom Riders.
Walker and the other Freedom Riders not only fought for peace and dignity for bus travel, but their actions and heroism can be documented in other desegregation work. Coordinating college student bodies and educating the public on the purpose of their movement was necessary in order to achieve their freedom fighting goals. Among many history earmarks, Nashville was the first to desegregate lunch counters. Because of Matthew’s tireless leadership and his work side-by-side with fellow civil rights workers with the sit-ins and other points of activism, Blacks or other minorities could not do any of the progressive things we do today. If earth angels like the Freedom Riders hadn’t emerged, none of our freedoms would be possible. It really sparks untapped gratitude and provokes thought.
A synopsis of his full and fruitful life and legacy includes a cornucopia of versatility, but there’s not enough room to share it all. He majored in economics, served in the United States Army, was a member of Omega Psi Phi fraternity (Gamma Phi Chapter) and was very active in his lifelong church: Clarksville Memorial United Church in Nashville. Walker was celebrated on the Oprah Winfrey Show for his 50th anniversary year.
He enjoyed spending time with his family, hunting, fishing, and was a writer for ABC News in New York. He kept people young and old abreast of ‘all things civil rights’ by lecturing and educating and allowing interviews with the media. Over the years, Walker always made himself available for other work within his community, like participating in the Clark United Methodist Church Fish Fry. He was also once the president of the United Methodist Men.
He left many to cherish his memory on the last ride home. He was preceded in death by parents Dr. Matthew Walker Sr. and Alice Walker; and two older sisters, Dr. Charlene Walker and Maxine Walker Giddings.
He is lovingly remembered by his brother Daniel P. Walker; his son Dr. Matthew Walker III (Anna Walker); daughter Monica Nicole Walker; grandson Matthew Walker IV; loving nephew, Brandford Giddings, Jr. and daughter, N’namdi, Randolph Giddings; niece Dr. Candace Giddings; Koney-Laryea (Dr. Daniyal Koney-Laryea and their children, Nurah, Nabil, Daniyal Nii-Laryea; other loving relatives; and a bevy of friends worldwide.
Services for the 74-year-old icon were handled by Lewis & Wright Funeral Directors. His home church and final resting place is the historic and noted Greenwood Cemetery on Edgehill Rd., Nashville. It was indeed an honor and a privilege to learn about the Freedom Fighters, their legacy and attend the beautiful home going.
His passing left a void but will always fill the universe through his family, fraternity, community and lifelong legacy. He definitely will be missed but not forgotten. Rest in peace Freedom (Fighter) Rider, vested warrior Matthew Walker, Jr. (June 1, 1941-April 10, 2016).