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OMA&D Remembers Eddie Ray Walker


Eddie Ray Walker passed away on Monday, December 4, 2023. As a lifelong advocate for diversity, equity and inclusion, especially in relation to Black-centered art and Black artists, Walker has left an indelible mark on the University of Washington. His actions as a student and throughout his life have helped shape the experience of thousands of OMA&D students over the past 55 years.

Walker was an artist, an activist and an avid reader, especially of Black literature and poetry. He graduated as a salutatorian of his class at Seattle’s Cleveland High School. He read W.E.B. Du Bois, his mother’s favorite, and at his graduation he spoke about the injustices faced by the Black community. Later he would study the writing of authors like Camus, Sartre, Che Guevara and Diego Rivera, which informed his activism at a young age and all throughout his life.

On May 20, 1968, the newly formed Black Student Union at the University of Washington staged a sit-in at the UW administration building to issue their demands that UW President Charles E. Odegaard take steps to make the UW campus more accessible and welcoming for current and future Black students. Among those students was Walker, who climbed the side of the UW administration building to gain access to the UW president’s office. He had been recruiting others in the Black community to participate in the sit-in, and by the time he returned to campus, the building had been locked down. In the award-winning 2007 documentary “In Pursuit of Social Justice: An Oral History of the Early Years of Diversity Efforts at the University of Washington,” Walker stated, “There were two people that day who went up the rope — I was one of them. We were worried every other minute that the police, or the National Guard, or whoever was going to come in, and you know, arrest us all and take us away.”

Left: Emile Pitre, Right: Eddie Walker. Both men posing and holding up fists.
Emile Pitre and Eddie Walker. Photo Courtesy of Emile Pitre.

The actions of Walker and others that day would ultimately lead to the formation of what is known today as the Office of Minority Affairs & Diversity. Emile Pitre, Walker’s friend and fellow founding member of the UW Seattle BSU, describes the department’s early days in his 2022 book “Revolution to Evolution.” Specifically, Pitre recounts how Walker and others from the BSU would spend time with incoming Black students weeks before they were to begin classes, introducing them to Black faculty and staff, providing tutoring in reading and math, and outlining resources available to them once on campus.

Walker is credited for the instrumental part he played in the creation of the Samuel E. Kelly Ethnic Cultural Center. He was interviewed by UW Magazine in 2022 about his role in its early years. “We needed a building. We needed a space to be together. And we needed a theater so the community could come out and join us,” said Walker. Again, in the documentary, Walker explains his reasoning for the push. “My bright idea was the ethnic culture center. Which is why I’m still proud of that, forty years later almost. But I got to write the proposal for the creating of the ethnic culture center with [the UW].” He envisioned the center including “a library, study skills center and a theater, because [he] was a cultural expert and [he] believed that the revolution would be better being nonviolent if we could have some cultural institutions.”

Eddie Walker mural Bearers of Culture (1972). Photos by Ron Wurzer

Walker’s 1972 mural titled Bearers of Culture hangs prominently in the entryway of the Samuel E. Kelly Ethnic Cultural Center and is the first piece of art visible when entering the building. Another Walker titled Bearers of Pain (1972) is located in the center’s Black Room. “Eddie Walker’s work towards equity and social justice played a key role in the creation of the Kelly Ethnic Cultural Center over 50 years ago. As caretakers of that legacy, we are saddened to lose a leader, icon and activist,” said Magdalena Fonseca, director of OMA&D’s Samuel E. Kelly Ethnic Cultural Center.  “The Kelly ECC will forever pay homage to him, and his mural The Bearers of Culture will ensure future generations continue to understand our history and how his advocacy created a ‘home away from home’ for many.”

Eddie Walker conducting a workshop at the Kelly ECC, April 18, 2013. Photo courtesy of Emile Pitre

Throughout his life after leaving the university, Walker remained involved in the UW and OMA&D. He frequented the Kelly ECC to meet with students, mentor young artists, and hold workshops for students and staff. He also traveled the world as a self-described professional tourist absorbing arts, culture and perspective from each place he traveled. Walker’s legacy as a cultural ambassador and staunch activist for social justice and civil rights remains evident in his art and in the tens of thousands of students affiliated with OMA&D who have attended the UW. Walker’s art — much like work advancing diversity, equity and inclusion at the UW — helps create a sense of belonging for each new cohort of students.






You can make a donation in memory of Eddie Walker to the UW Seattle Black Opportunity Fund.

Donate to the Black Opportunity Fund