Over 100 years after his death, Abraham Beverly Walker has received the Order of New Brunswick.
Walker was the first Canadian-born black lawyer in the country, being called to the bar in 1882.
“It’s probably overdue but it’s never too late,” said Walker’s great-granddaughter Debra Walker Little, who traveled all the way from Michigan to be at the ceremony Wednesday in Fredericton.
“I thought it was important that one of his direct descendants was here to honour him and to be present.”
Little was joined by her son, Dwight Little Jr.
“It’s an honour to be here. I’m very proud of my roots and where we come from,” he said. “It’s overwhelming and it actually pushes me and makes me want to do more to educate people and how to pass on education to generation after generation.”
The honour was the culmination of research done by the New Brunswick Black Historical Society (NBBHS) and amateur historian Peter Little. NBBHS project co-ordinator Ralph Thomas says the society had just a little more than a name when Little got involved.
“Peter took it and ran with it. Between him and his wife, who is very skilled in doing all the things that we have to do to put these things together, they found this whole story,” Thomas said.
“We were just poking it with a stick and then Peter came along and he got to the point where he was digging deeper and deeper into history.”
Walker was born in Kars, N.B., in 1851 and eventually went on to study law at the National University in Washington, D.C. Shortly after returning to New Brunswick, Walker was called to the bar and began his practice on Princess St. in Saint John.
Walker was constantly faced with discrimination and eventually abandoned his practice, moving to Georgia and becoming a travelling lecturer. Eventually Walker returned to New Brunswick and became the first black New Brunswicker to publish a magazine, which was called Neith.
The more Little dug up on Walker and the more he learned about the author, speaker, and civil rights pioneer, the more he felt that Walker deserved to be honoured and remembered.
“I’ve been interested in local history my entire life and never heard of him. But when I first did and began to find out more about him, I thought this is terribly unjust that nobody knows him, you know, for all he tried to accomplish and all the struggles he had he was completely forgotten,” he said.
Little’s work has given a window into Walker’s life that his descendants never had. Dwight Little Jr. knew that his great great grandfather was a lawyer, but wasn’t aware of his many other accomplishments.
“I knew a little history. I knew my grandfather was named after him … and he told me that his grandfather was a lawyer and that he wrote books. I didn’t know he lectured … so I was looking for some of these publications because I wanted to know what he wrote,” Little said.
“Peter gave us so much information. We were just reading it last night. We stayed up almost half the night reading the articles that he wrote and it was really amazing.”
Peter Little says he had been looking for any descendants of Walker’s for some time, but in the end they found him.
“I had searched for them for a couple of years to now avail and six weeks ago just out of the blue they called,” he said.
When Little applied for Walker to receive the Order of New Brunswick, it was expected that the New Brunswick Black Historical Society would hold the medal in trust until Walker’s descendants can be located.
But now he says he can rest easy knowing it’s in the right hands.
“It’s amazing, it’s absolutely amazing,” he said.
“It was one thing to have him inducted into the order of New Brunswick, it’s quite another to be able to give the medal to the people that own it.”