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Walton, Lester A.(1882–1965) - Diplomat, journalist, Career as Journalist, Begins Political Career, Chronology, Explores the Entertainment Sphere, Community Interests

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Lester Aglar Walton was mainly known for his diplomatic activity and his journalism, but he was also active in the entertainment arena in the early twentieth century. Although he claimed no direct personal hardship based on color in pursuit of his careers, he participated in obtaining employment for African Americans in a variety of theater roles and supported extending their opportunities in the theater.

Walton was born on April 20, 1882, in St. Louis, Missouri, where he attended the public schools. He graduated from Sumner High School in St. Louis. Later he received three honorary degrees: an MA. from Lincoln University in Chester, Pennsylvania (1927); an LL.D., from Wilber-force University (1945); and an LL.D. from the University of Liberia (1958). He married Gladys Moore in 1912, the daughter of Fred A. Moore, who was the publisher of the New York Age . They had two daughters.

Career as Journalist

Walton’s journalism career began at the St. Louis Star where he was a golf writer. He became the first African American to write for a daily paper in St. Louis when he accepted a fulltime job working on general assignment and as court reporter for the St. Louis Star , from 1902 to 1906. In 1906, Walton moved to New York City, and later he became the manager and theatrical editor for the New York Age from 1908 to1914. He returned to the New York Age , an African American paper, from 1917 to 1919. During this period in his career he also wrote for a white paper, the St. Louis Glove-Democrat . Walton continued his journalism career by becoming a special writer for the New York World from 1922 to 1931. In 1931, when the World collapsed, he became a feature writer for the New York Herald Tribune , but soon quit when he learned the paper would not be giving him a byline. In 1932, Walton returned to the New York Age in the position of associate editor.

His journalism career fed his interest in world affairs, and in 1919 he attended the Versailles Peace Conference as a correspondent. Liberia was one of his special interests and in 1933, he visited the country and wrote articles for the Age and the New York Herald Tribune during the International Liberian Committee. During this period, diplomatic relations between the Liberian government, the United States, and Great Britain were suspended because of problems between Liberian labor and foreign industrialists.

Walton served as an arbitrator in a labor relations dispute between the Newspaper Guild of New York and the New York Amsterdam News , from 1957 to 1959. He also became an active member of the Society of the Silurians, an association of journalists.

Begins Political Career

Walton’s interest in politics began around 1913, when be started a movement with the assistance of the Associated Press, for the spelling of the word “Negro” with a capital “N.” His efforts were rewarded when newspapers and magazines took up the debate within their pages.

Walton was asked by the United Colored Democracy to write some political literature during a mayoralty campaign. He was later appointed publicity director for the Colored Division of the Democratic National Committee and served in 1924, 1928, and 1932.

Walton was referred to as the “Dean of the Diplomatic Corps.” On July 2, 1935, he was appointed envoy extraordinary and minister plenipotentiary to Liberia, by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Walton was appointed United States minister (ambassador) in July 1935, in what was then called the “Negro post,” because Liberia and Haiti were the only places where black people held such positions.

Walton was ambassador to Liberia at a time when Liberia faced a major political crisis. Around 1930, President Charles D. B. King and his vice president resigned, after the League of Nations’ investigation of slavery and forced labor implicated key Liberian leaders. When Edwin J. Barclay, the new president of Liberia, refused to implement measures recommended by the League of Nations (measures that could have compromised the independence of Liberia), the Roosevelt administration refused to recognize the new Liberian government.

When Walton arrived in Liberia, he helped to push for U.S. recognition of the Barclay administration. A few years later, during World War II, when Liberia had strategic importance for the United States, he helped Liberia to get much needed resources from the United States government. He concluded significant treaties between the United States and Liberia, including the terms under which the U.S. government established an army base in the country. He also negotiated with the Liberian government for the construction of a port in Monrovia (the first port constructed in Liberia) and concluded commerce, navigation, and aviation treaties. In the area of aviation, he presided over the Liberia-Pan Am deal, which established Liberia’s first international airport (Roberts Field).

Yet, Walton was not uncritical of Liberia. Its government was ripe with corruption, and Walton was especially appalled by the human rights violations imposed by the government against its own people. According to the African Within website, he wrote to Harry Mcbride, who had served in Liberia as financial advisor to the Liberian government under the Loan Agreement, that “Forced labor, vicious exploitation of the natives by Frontier Force, unjust and excessive fines are some of the contributory factors to occasion resentment and dissatisfaction, impelling many natives to reluctantly settle in Sierra Leone.”

Still, with World War II at hand and the Japanese army controlling the countries that manufactured rubber, the United States needed Liberia and her natural rubber reserves. In fact, Liberia was the only country where the United States and its allies could readily obtain natural rubber. Walton was instrumental in improving Liberian and U.S. relations. The U.S. and Britain also needed to use the country as a base for transporting American soldiers, military hardware, and supplies to North Africa. Roosevelt convinced Liberia to declare war against Germany, and Liberia’s natural rubber supplied to the Allies helped seal Nazi Germany’s fate.

Walton, after serving as ambassador to Liberia for ten years, resigned from the position. Still, from 1948 to 1949, he served as advisor to the Liberian delegation to the United States.

Chronology

1882

Born in St. Louis, Missouri on April 20

1908

Becomes managing editor and theatrical editor for the New York Age

1917–19

Directs Harlem’s famed Lafayette Theater

1919

Attends the Versailles Peace Conference as a correspondent

1924

Appointed publicity director for the Colored Division of the Democratic National Committee; serves again in this role in 1928 and 1932

1927

Receives honorary M.A. from Lincoln University, Pennsylvania

1932–35

Returns to serve as associate editor of the New York Age

1933

Visits Liberia and sends back articles to the Age and New York Herald Tribune

1935

Appointed envoy extraordinary and minister penipotentiary to Liberia

1948–49

Serves as advisor to the Liberian delegation to the United Nations

1965

Dies in New York City on October 16

Explores the Entertainment Sphere

In about 1900, Walton had begun a long friendship with Ernest Hogan, taking minor roles in Hogan’s productions so that he could learn more about the theater. Walton was active in the entertainment field during the late 1910s and the early 1920s. Working as manager of Harlem’s Lafayette Theater from 1914 to 1916 and again from 1919 to 1921, he also served as the dramatic lyricist for the theater. He wrote concert reviews and editorials on black music, stressing the importance of musical knowledge and culture for African Americans.

Walton’s entertainment experience was sought during World War I; he was a member of the Military Entertainment Service, where he supervised theatrical productions among the African American soldiers. He was later vice president of the Negro Actor’s Guild and in the 1950s became chairman of the Coordinating Council for Negro Performers. Walton was dedicated to the council’s mission of increasing and promoting greater integration of African Americans in the media, both television and radio. He was musically active in other ways as well: he wrote lyrics for and helped to direct such musicals as Joe Jordan’s Rufus Rastus (1905–06), which starred Ernest Hogan; The Oyster Man (1909) also a Hogan musical; Alex Rogers and Will Marion Cook’s Black Bohemia (1911); and Cook’s Darkeydom (1914–15). In 1922, Walton was touring manager for Harry Pace’s Black Swan Troubadours. He was a song writer during his career, from 1905 through 1956. Two of his best known songs are “Welcome to New York,” which was dedicated to the mayor of New York, Robert F. Wagner, and “Jim Crow Has Got to Go,” a rallying song for civil rights workers in the 1950s. Pursuing his interest in black writers and musicians, he set up the Walton Publishing Company to publish instrumental music.

Community Interests

Walton made New York his home and was a longstanding member of the Harlem community. He sought to make local improvements for African Americans, becoming one of the original volunteer members of the Commission on Intergroup Relations, a New York City agency founded in 1955, which in 1961 became known as the Commission on Human Rights. Under Mayor Wagner, the commission worked in the fields of civil rights and civil liberties, especially fair housing practices. He retired from the commission in 1964. On October 16, 1965, Walton died in New York City. His wife Gladys died in 1977.

Walton, Sam - Overview, Personal Life, Career Details, Social and Economic Impact, Chronology: Sam Walton [next] [back] Walls, Josiah(1842–1905) - Congressman, Launches Political Career, Chronology

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