Reverend Dr. Wyatt Tee Walker (Retired)
Canaan Baptist Church
“African American churches are the reservoirs of our culture.”
“Harlem is the cultural heartbeat of the African American community in America. Diversity is a new comer to Harlem and it reflects the vitality of the community. Harlem, like the African American church, welcomes everybody. The spirit of Harlem is open, inviting, and resilient.
Historically, the African American church was the anchor of the community. What holds the community together is the history of struggle in this nation. What tears it apart is economic inequality.
Harlem has impacted my life because I lived in the Dunbar Apartments on 149th between 7th and 8th Avenues from the age of nine until I was sixteen. I worked in the garment district downtown. I fondly remember Sunday afternoon strolls in Harlem, going to the Alhambra Theater, visiting people at Graham Court, and going to the Loews Movie House on 116th Street — which later became Canaan Baptist Church. During my early years Harlem was known as the ghetto of New York and now it is a cultural center, a major tourist destination. My church welcomed tourists from Europe every Sunday.
My most memorable experience as a preacher was on March 28, 1968. Dr. King installed me as a minister at Canaan. Ten days later he was dead. It was the last place in New York City that he spoke.
My legacy in Harlem is represented in the Harlem State Office Building on 125th and 7th Avenue. It was my idea to place this government facility in Harlem while I was the Urban Affairs Specialist for Governor Rockefeller, a position I held for 10 years. It was the first major government facility placed in a black community in this country.”
A rare mix of scholarship, activism and compassion, Rev. Walker is a forefather of the Harlem community who has worked with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. His dynamic and purpose-driven career rivals that of the greatest presidents America has ever produced. Although he currently resides in Chester, Virginia with his wife, his heart is still in Harlem.