AES Mourns the Loss of Professor John Walter

Submitted by American Ethnic Studies on

John Christopher Walter, Professor Emeritus of AES, passed away on March 21, 2023 at the age of 90.  He was a professor of American ethnic and African American studies from 1989 to 2007, when he retired.  Many of us have great memories of John as an advocate for expanding and deepening the coverage of African American studies in AES, an intellectual leader in civil rights justice, and a beloved teacher and mentor for many students.

John Walter was born in Jacks River, Jamaica, BWI, to Doris Bennett and Arthur Frederick Walter, the second of four children, Dorothy Evelyn, Alice Eugenie (June), and Winston Edmund (Homer).  After attending high school at the Jamaica School of Agriculture, rather than follow his father’s dream of running his banana plantation, William’s Park, John fulfilled his childhood dream of going to America to college as a star track athlete at Philander Smith College and what is now Arkansas State.

Coming to America, he encountered segregation and discrimination, and inspired by the Civil Rights Movement, he earned a Ph.D. in history at the University of Maine. Teaching at Purdue, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, Bowdoin College, Smith College, and the University of Washington-Seattle, he inspired numerous students to enter the legal or higher education professions, and other fields—always with a keen focus on social justice. His courses on Blacks and the Law, the History of the South Since the Civil War, Music and Social Change, and The Jazz Age were always oversubscribed. He was awarded the American Book Award in 1990 for his biography The Harlem Fox: J. Raymond Jones and Tammany Hall, 1920-1970.  His former students at Bowdoin College established the John Walter Scholarship Fund for Excellence and Diversity.

An excellent golfer, John loved to talk, tell stories, and relate history and contemporary politics. He loved all kinds of music, but especially classical music and jazz, and had a huge vinyl and CD collection. He especially treasured his 55 year-old Advent Speakers and Dual turntable. John had an infectious humor, shaped by his keen intellect and his British colonial upbringing, and loved to dance a Calypso Cha-cha-cha which he created. He liked to dress stylishly with beautiful silk ties, something inspired by the many seamstresses in his family, the ones who taught him to darn, sew buttonholes, and to needlepoint.

John is survived by his wife and soulmate Johnnella, who taught with him in the same departments for over 40 years, and her nieces, Sonia Dawkins of New York and Theresa Dawkins Smith of Virginia; his siblings, Sonia McFarlane of Kingston, Jamaica; Winston (Homer) Walter, of Florida; Yvonne Foster of Florida; Henry Walter of Jacks River, Jamaica; Barbara Spence, of New York; Joan Mitchell of Jamaica; and Marlene Beckford of New Jersey; and numerous nieces and nephews.