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Message of hate stuns proud family

The Walkers, who have broken barriers for decades, wake to find epithets spray-painted on their home.

By JANET ZINK
Published November 23, 2005


TAMPA - Forty-three years ago, William Walker made history as the first black graduate of the University of Tampa.

His father, Charles Walker, was such an advocate for education of black children that a middle school in Citrus Park was named for him.

Now members of this noteworthy family are baffled over an unexpected racial insult.

Tuesday morning, William Walker, now 78, and his children found ugly epithets painted on the back of their West Tampa home.

"I can't believe something like that happened in our community," said 43-year-old Wyatt Walker, who lives with his father, William, and a brother and sister at the home. "It's unacceptable in this day and time."

The tidy neighborhood of ranch-style houses is made up mostly of original homeowners, most of them black, Wyatt said.

The Walkers said they have no idea who might have scrawled the black letters on the white wall outside a workshop where Wyatt and William Walker run a lawn mower repair business. They read "N------ are not welcome here."

"I don't think it was children. It's far too grammatically correct," said Gail Walker, 52, who studied to be an English teacher at Florida State University before working in sales at IBM. Now she takes care of William, who suffered from an aneurysm in 1998.

William Walker worked as a microbiologist for Anheuser Busch. He built the house in the quiet neighborhood about 50 years ago and raised his family there.

Still troubled by his illness, Walker is easily flustered and couldn't answer questions Tuesday. He stayed calm raking the yard and clipping already manicured hedges.

Walker received a bachelor of science degree from the University of Tampa in 1962 after taking classes through an extension program at MacDill Air Force Base.

His father, Charles Walker, was a longtime advocate of educational rights for black children and successfully lobbied the county to build the Citrus Park Colored School in 1924. He died in 1993 at 102. Walker Middle School in Citrus Park is named for him.

Wyatt Walker, who also works as a technician in the Clearwater wastewater treatment plant, said he was tinkering with a faulty motion sensitive light outside the house around dinner time Monday and the wall was clear.

Tuesday morning, a neighbor drove by and saw the graffiti. She called the Walkers and told them to go look at it.

"I just stopped and stared at it," Wyatt Walker said. "I've never had this type of feeling."

Wyatt said he was the only black student in his class at Jesuit High School and has always felt comfortable anywhere. Their father taught the family that race is not an issue, he said.

Tampa police will investigate the crime, but Detective Mike Fendle said it will not be easy to solve. "With that type of crime, it's very difficult unless someone comes forward," he said.

Fendle tracks Tampa's white supremacist groups, but those organizations aren't typically responsible for hateful graffiti.

"Usually with that sort of thing it's some ignorant redneck in the neighborhood," Fendle said.

Graffiti that's classified as a hate crime is a third-degree felony punishable by as long as five years in prison, said Pam Bondi, assistant state attorney.

City Council member Kevin White, who represents the area and grew up in the neighborhood, brought the family a Thanksgiving turkey Tuesday after he heard the news.

Wyatt Walker said as soon as possible he'll paint over the graffiti, hopefully before the family hosts 15 people for dinner Thursday. Gail Walker said she doesn't want her guests to see the offensive words.

"They're all older," she said. "That'll scare them to death."

Janet Zink can be reached at 813 226-3401 or jzink@sptimes.com

[Last modified November 23, 2005, 00:58:09]


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