Mary Walker was born in Union Springs, Alabama in 1848 and lived in bondage until she was freed at 15 as a result of the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863. By 20 she was married and had her first child. Her family moved to Chattanooga, TN. In 1917 and by 114 she out-lived her husband and three children. Living in somewhat obscurity, Mary Walker joined a literacy class when she moved to the Poss Home High Rise in 1963. Learning to read was something she wanted to do even while in slavery. After learning to read at the ripe age of 117 she became a national celebrity.

Mary Walker Historical Marker
Inscription. Born a slave in Union Springs, Alabama, “Grandma” Walker moved to Chattanooga in 1917 and remained here until her death. At the age of 116 she enrolled in Chattanooga Area Literacy Movement class and learned to read, write, and solve arithmetic problems. She twice received Chattanooga’s Ambassador of Goodwill award and was declared the oldest student in the nation by the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare.

Mary Walker’s perseverance and determination earned her a number of honors. She was recognized as the nations oldest student by the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, named as Chattanooga’s Ambassador of Goodwill twice, received the key to the City and recognition for two U.S. Presidents and dignitaries from across the country and Canada. She would say, “the best year of my life was after I learned to read and write.” Following her passing in 1969, the city of Chattanooga renamed the Poss Home High Rise the Mary Walker Towers and erected a memorial in her honor.

Helen Kelly, second from left, helps Mrs. Walker slice a piece of cake during the celebration of her 116th birthday. Mary Walker attended Mrs. Kelly’s reading class and learned to read and write at the age of 117.