Gloucester mural honors native who brought education and opportunity for many


GLOUCESTER Va. (WAVY) — A recently painted mural in Gloucester Courthouse is honoring the life of one of the county’s more famous figures.

Thomas Calhoun “T.C.” Walker’s image and other images representing his life aren’t hard to spot off Main Street.

The mural, painted by Michael Rosato, was finished after about five weeks of work.

The Cook Foundation is responsible for making the project happen.

“I hope that everyone when they see it are thrilled with the beauty of the mural and the beauty of the message of the mural,” said Adrianne Joseph, who is the foundation’s president.

The mural is the fourth one on Main Street, according to Joseph.

She says she started the foundation 22 years ago to bring art to the area she fell in love with.

“We’ve done that through many different projects,” she said.

Joseph says they decided to highlight Walker for their most recent venture because of the impact he had on the community.

Her daughters both attended T.C. Walker Elementary School and they lived near T.C. Walker Road.

But Walker’s legacy extends far beyond that.

He was a lawyer, teacher, and government official who pushed for education and opportunity in the county.

“I just think this is a wonderful opportunity,” said Dr. Wesley Wilson, a historian who has studied Walker for years. “It gives us an opportunity to share in our relationships with each other and to manifest what he was thinking in terms of we’re one people … so to speak.”

Wilson says that Walker was born in 1862, just months before the Emancipation Proclamation was issued. His parents were both slaves but lived on different plantations.

Walker’s father was freed by his master prior to the war ending but Walker, his mother, and siblings were taken by their master to West Virginia.

After the war, Walker’s father walked to Richmond to find his family after hearing that slaves from West Virginia were brought there and the family was reunited.

Wilson says as a child, Walker’s father took him to a talk that encouraged education and the opportunities it brought. That ignited his passion for learning.

Although he was illiterate, Walker decided to enroll at Hampton Normal School, which is Hampton University today. He failed the entrance exam and was told he had to go home, but he convinced Gen. Samuel Armstrong, the school’s founder, to let him stay.

Wilson says that Armstrong was so taken by this that he let Walker stay but he had to work to pay for his board. While at Hampton, he was mentored by Booker T. Washington and graduated from the four-year program in three years.

Although many of those who got their education at Hampton went north, Wilson admires that Walker never left.

“T.C. Walker came back to Gloucester. He never left Gloucester. He traveled quite a bit but his entire dedication was to Gloucester County and the Black people of Gloucester,” he said.

Walker went on to become a lawyer and was the first African American to practice law in Gloucester County.

He was elected to the Gloucester Board of Supervisors and appointed as Virginia’s first Black Collector of Customs by President William McKinley.

President Theodore Roosevelt appointed him as the advisor and consultant of Negro affairs for the Virginia Emergency Relief Administration, where he earned the nickname the “Black Governor” of Virginia.

Wilson says that Walker was also instrumental in setting up schools for African Americans and brought seven Rosenwald Schools to the area.

While he focused on helping the Black community, Wilson says he also impacted others.

“He wasn’t focused on white or Black education, he was focused on people doing something in their life,” he said.

Wilson also spoke about Walker bringing home six or seven young teenagers who were imprisoned to educate them.

Stories like this are what inspired artist Rosato’s design of the mural.

The Cambridge, Maryland, resident says he read Walker’s autobiography, “The Honey-Pod Tree,” to learn more about him and hopes that everyone who sees the mural is also inspired.

“He embodied everything I had ever been taught to be. It’s great hope when they take a moment to learn the story and learn how much a part of their story it is and our story it is,” he said.

Rosato, who’s been painting murals across the country for years, including at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, says he painted the American Flag first on the mural.

“What I want people to take from this is this is our history. This man played a huge role in his community and in the growth of our country,” he said.

A ceremony will be held on Sunday from 3 p.m to 5 p.m. at the mural.

A short program will start at 3:15 p.m.

All who wish to attend are encouraged to practice social distancing and wear a mask.

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