HARRY LEE & ELIZA
MEET THE WALKERS.
Harry Lee Walker
Born in 1875, Harry Lee Walker was one of the most prominent African-American businessmen of his day.
The columned building he purchased in 1911 to operate his thriving butcher shop has remained commonly known as the Willson-Walker House. Walker supplied to VMI, W&L and many fraternities the celebrated hams he cured and the beef he shipped in from Fairfield and Buena Vista to his farm East of Lexington. Neighboring Walker Street still witnesses the respect and influence he earned.
Walker & Wood’s “Sanitary Meat Market and Grocery” would become a pillar among the African-American shops and businesses at the foot of N. Main Street in Lexington.
In 1917, he purchased one of Lexington’s most celebrated historic homes, Blandome, with its distinctive Italianate cupola overlooking all of Lexington from the top of Diamond Hill.
Walker was also a leading member in First Baptist Church, founded right on the heels of Emancipation. His home and his church now both bear plaques witnessing their places on the National Historic Register.
Eliza Bannister Walker
Eliza Bannister Walker, whom the budding entrepreneur Harry married when he was 19, would make her own impact in the community not through commercial connections, but civic activism.
Born in 1874, she was well noted as a singer in “The Nightingales,” and wrote a number of dialect poems that signal her sensitivity to both tone and tradition, while addressing a range of contemporary issues.
Most purposefully however, her activism led to leading roles in the Virginia Federation of Colored Woman (hosting their conference at Blandome in 1921), and organizing political and religious gatherings with nationally speakers.
She also led local campaigns to advance funding for local schools, to support the needs of orphans, and to raise wages for both women and blacks.
For more on the Walkers, and Lexington's civic and commercial growth over time, visit the Rockbridge Historical Society's interactive resources centered on Local Black Histories.