In May, Sheriff Attaway and his deputies drew their guns and rolled down South Valley Street in preparation for the riot, heading for the Negro neighborhood where Mr. Wilson’s red brick church still stands. They went door to door, arresting and imprisoning about 40 people. Some were innocent for several days, most were innocent.
Mr. Walker was never involved.
“I’d like to think it had something to do with it,” said Gary Jordan, a white man who coached Walker in track and football since he was in fifth grade. You can’t get in shape in. You have to run, and practice is at 3.”
Mr. Walker had other white leaders in town, including the owner of the gas station where Mr. Walker worked and the farmer who employed his parents. Another was Janet Caniga, a math teacher.
“As a school student, his role in society was not to solve the world’s racial problems,” she said this summer.
“I don’t want to be in conflict,” said Gary Phillips, a white former football coach at Walker’s high school. How or why did he decide this wasn’t the best thing for me to start working on?”
Mr. Walker soon left Wrightsville and spoke little of the episode. He declined to be interviewed for this article. When asked by a reporter about the conflict in his home country during his college days, Walker said he was “too young” and “he didn’t want to get involved in something he didn’t know much about.”
How do Times reporters report politics? We trust journalists to be independent observers. As such, Times staff members may vote, but are not permitted to endorse or campaign for any candidate or political cause. This includes participating in marches or rallies in support of causes, making donations or fundraising to political candidates or electoral causes.
In a memoir published decades later, Walker made only brief reference to the conflict. However, he explained that the previous year there had been a confrontation at school between a black student and a white principal.