Mary Walker Historical and Educational Foundation officials on last Wednesday delivered lunch to residents of Mary Walker Towers, 2501 Market St. The public housing community is home to more than 150 residents aged 50 and older.
“In honor of Mary Walker, we will be delivering lunches to the Mary Walker Towers for several Wednesdays–in hope that we may discover the next remarkable person living in the shadows of illiteracy,” said Adrian Edwards, Mary Walker Historical and Educational Foundation President and Chattanooga News Chronicle President. “Our mission is to help people learn to read and have them enjoy the rewards that go along with that.”
The Mary Walker Foundation was established in 1970 in honor of its namesake, Mary Walker, by the Rev. John Loyd Edwards Jr., father of Chattanooga News Chronicle founder and publisher John L. Edwards III. Its mission is to help alleviate poverty for all Chattanooga citizens and help create economic stability through literacy training and educational activities.
Born in 1848 In Union Springs, Ala., and enslaved until she was 15 years old when President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, Mary Walker worked in a variety of service jobs and raised her family of three children.
Her husband and family moved to Chattanooga in 1917, when Walker was 69. For many years, she lived in a run down and dilapidated brick apartment at 1812 Baldwin St. It was said that Walker would sell sandwiches in the neighborhood to earn funds for her church, New Hope Baptist on Kerr Street.
Staying busy with work and church service, Walker had lost her children and husband to death by the time she was 114 years old. She eventually moved to the Poss Homes High Rise Apartments on Market Street. It was there she met a woman named Helen Kelly, a volunteer teacher for the Chattanooga Area Literacy Movement (CALM).
Walker enrolled in the CALM program at the tender age of 115, learning to read and write and mastering addition and subtraction after attending a one-hour class, two nights a week for more than a year. She twice received Chattanooga’s Ambassador of Goodwill award and following her death in 1969 at the age of 121, the city of Chattanooga renamed the Poss Homes high rise–in which she lived–the Mary Walker Towers.
Recognized and honored locally, regionally, and nationally, Walker inspired a commitment through determination and grit to grow and be better, regardless of her years and station in life.
Board Chairman Lurone “Coach” Jennings said the Mary Walker Foundation exists to carry that mindset into the Chattanooga community, specifically through literacy and hard work.
“Mary Walker was recognized as ‘the Nation’s Oldest Student’ after living through 26 presidents spanning two centuries,” he noted. “Today, the Mary Walker Foundation exists to cultivate a commitment to lifetime learning that opens doors of opportunity for all.”
For further information, or to donate to the Mary Walker Historical and Educational Foundation, call (423) 267-2313 or access marywalkerfoundation.org.