A Curbside Sermon From Rev. Wyatt Tee Walker
The Rev. Wyatt Tee Walker served as chief of staff for the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. from 1960 to 1964 and spent nearly four decades as the pastor of Canaan Baptist Church of Christ, in Harlem. In this photo, from April 5, 1970, he is taking his message to the streets in a fight against drugs and social ills decreasing the quality of life for Harlem residents. It must be noted that this was a particularly difficult period when the heroin trade was rampant throughout Harlem, but pinpointed in the very area of many historic houses of worship such as Masjid Malcolm Shabazz and Canaan Baptist Church of Christ. Due to the advocacy of Dr. Walker and other religious leaders Harlem is now an entirely different place absent of many the perils of the past. Below is a NY Times article featuring Dr Walker:
I was at the height of my prime, at 116th street in Harlem, and we had a big problem with drug trafficking and our kids. They’d be recruited for drugs, then come to the community centers under the auspices of the church.
That picture was taken when I was talking to the parents of the children.
It was an ongoing movement — some several months. I guess we had a couple hundred people that day. It was after the morning service at the church. I spoke for 30, 45 minutes, not too long because people wanted to get to dinner.
We worked with different faiths, different groups. It was mouth to mouth in the community. We wanted our children to have a choice that was better than drugs.
They were the people I recruited to fight the drug trafficking. It was so rampant.
That’s why Frank Lucas — you remember that movie, “American Gangster”? — put a hit out on me, because I was effectively thwarting the drug traffic.
I had been threatened before. It didn’t bother me. I was convinced that God would take care of me.
The police, I think they were overwhelmed. The 28th Precinct, where our church was situated, was one of the worst drug centers in New York City. You couldn’t buy aspirin, but you could buy any kind of drug.
There was some talk that the police were involved in the drug traffic. I can’t say that myself, but people said the police were being paid by the drug traffickers.
We just felt they weren’t doing anything about it. I guess we felt abandoned. Our children were at risk. That’s why we were so mobilized.
That photo, now, it reminds me of the times that I did things over and beyond what was good sense.
They were always warning me that it was dangerous, but that didn’t stop me. I had been involved in the struggle in the Deep South, so I was accustomed to dangerous situations. It was tough to frighten me because I was so convinced that God would take care of me.
My basic faith was in the Lord. We were doing the right thing at the right time.