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Published: Sunday, 10/27/2013 - Updated: 2 years ago

Clarence J. Walker, Jr.; 1925-2013: Vet lauded as leader for equality

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Clarence J. Walker, Jr., who brought his concern for equality and community to state and federal leadership roles and his hometown, died Thursday in the Glendale Assisted Living facility. He was 87.

He was in failing health after falling twice in recent months, his son, Eric, said.

Mr. Walker of Ottawa Hills was among those honored in 2011 at the Legends Luncheon of the African-American Legacy Project of Northwest Ohio. On the job and as a volunteer, “he was a community activist,” his son said. “He was fighting poverty and injustice.”

He took note of racism, but also of compassion, said Howard Brown, retired Libbey High School principal, who was on the board of the Frederick Douglass Community Association when Mr. Walker was executive director. “He saw that there were people always willing to help. He wanted to make sure that things were fair for everyone.”

Early in his career, Mr. Walker was a city tax officer. Later, he was administrative officer of the Work Experience Program for Youth. He was a field representative of the northwest Ohio regional office of the Ohio Civil Rights Commission, and from 1966 to 1968 he led the office, enforcing state laws against bias in employment, housing, and public accommodations in 25 counties. “Being a black man and going into counties that were predominantly all white, he had to carry himself with distinction and, more importantly, determination,” his son said. “He was tough. He was stubborn. He was social and had a good sense of humor. As he always said, “I’m nice as nice can be until you cross me, and then I can be meaner than a junk-yard dog.’ ”

Mr. Walker next helped lead community relations efforts at the Detroit office of the U.S. Justice Department, commuting from Toledo. He worked with Detroit Public Schools in the ’70s as the district faced a controversial court order to desegregate.

He was appointed to fill a vacancy on the Toledo Board of Education in 1972 and unsuccessfully sought a full term in 1973. He attended board meetings for decades, believing “education made the difference in terms of social justice and equality and self-sufficiency,” his son said.

Mr. Walker retired from the Frederick Douglass Community Association in 1990 after overseeing it expand services and move to a new center. He had been chairman emeritus of the J. Frank Troy Senior Center, a former officer of the NAACP local and state chapters, and chairman of the YMCA’s former Indiana Avenue branch.

He was a 33rd degree Mason and member of Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity and former member of the Lucas County Republican Party Central Committee.

Born Dec. 1, 1925, to Lucinda and Clarence J. Walker, he grew up on Indiana Avenue. At Scott High School, he was called “Flash” for his performance in football, basketball, and track. He served stateside in the Navy during World War II and was recalled to active duty during the Korean War.

He received a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Toledo, where he also took law courses. UT honored him in 2003.

He was honored as a pioneer in 2000 during the city’s Affirmative Action Pacesetter Awards program.

He’d been a member of the Arts Commission of Greater Toledo and former president of the Cordelia Martin Health Center. He was appointed to the Ohio Commission on African-American Males by then-Gov. Bob Taft.

Surviving are his wife, Shirley Walker, whom he married June 7, 1952; son, Eric Walker, director of the Lucas County Workforce Development Agency; brothers, William “Billy” and Eugene Walker, and sister, Dorothy Ayalew.

Visitation will be 4-8 p.m. Thursday in Warren AME Church, where Kappa Alpha Psi services are set for 6 p.m. and Masonic services at 7 p.m. Thursday. The funeral will be at noon Friday in the church, with a family hour at 11 a.m. Friday.

The family suggests tributes to the African-American Legacy Project, the church, or a charity of the donor’s choice.

Contact Mark Zaborney at: mzaborney@theblade.com or 419-724-6182.

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