In a video interview on March 12, 2013, Beatrice Freeman Walker talked about growing up in Blacksburg during segregation, the changes she has observed in the town, and the historical significance of the St. Luke and Odd Fellows Hall. Mrs. Walker, who died on December 31, 2013, was a dynamic community member and cared deeply about the preservation of Blacksburg’s African American history.
Born in 1926, the youngest of five siblings, Mrs. Walker grew up in Blacksburg at 202 Jackson Street. Her family’s property went all the way to Progress Street where her father, Alonzo Freeman, had his dry cleaning business. Their home was on the border of the town’s original grid of 16 blocks, which was laid out by William Black in 1797 and bounded by Draper Road, Jackson Street, Wharton Street, and Clay Street. In the 1970s, the town acquired her family home though eminent domain in order to expand the fire department, and she lived the remainder of her life in Christiansburg.
In the interview she recalled that when she was growing up, the children were “unconscious of segregation.” There were blacks on one side of the street and whites lived on the other. The problem, she said, “It isn’t the children. It’s the parents.”
At various times, her family also owned a beauty salon, an ice cream parlor where they served homemade hand-cranked ice cream, and a recreation place called Paradise View on what was then Grissom Lane, but is now called Nelly’s Cave. “Daddy just owned it because we had croquet, horseshoe, badminton, bands, and sandwiches and sodas,” she said. “They would go up there for recreation. It was open on Saturdays and Sundays. People as far as Bluefield, West Virginia would come in and down there.”
Among other jobs, Bessie (Briggs) Freeman, Mrs. Walker’s mother, traveled in order to encourage membership in the St. Luke and Odd Fellows. This organization was important to the African American community because it helped people find opportunities for learning different trades and it sold insurance that people could borrow from when they wanted to send a child to college or when there was a death. The St. Luke and Odd Fellows Hall, built in the early 1900s, provided a gathering place for meetings, social events, and fundraisers.
After graduating from Christiansburg Institute in 1943, Mrs. Walker did civil service work in Washington, D.C. Later, she returned to Blacksburg and worked for several local businesses including Spudnuts (later called Carol Lee Doughnut Shop) on College Avenue, Litton Poly-Scientific, and in 1975, Volvo White Motor Company in Dublin, Virginia. While at Volvo, she was active in the United Auto Workers (Local 2069) and a strong advocate for her fellow employees.
Beatrice Freeman Walker was instrumental in the renovation of the Order of St. Luke’s and Odd Fellows Museum Hall in Blacksburg. In 2004, Mrs. Walker, Walter Lewis, and Aubrey Mills were appointed as trustees.
Beatrice Freeman Walker’s video oral history interview, which was conducted at the St.Luke and Odd Fellows Hall, may be accessed from Virginia Tech’s institutional repository, VTechWorks, managed by the University Libraries at http://vtechworks.lib.vt.edu/handle/10919/24714 Mrs. Walker’s granddaughter, Latanya Walker, was present at the interview conducted by Tamara Kennelly. Scott Pennington was the videographer.
To learn more about the St. Luke and Odd Fellows Hall visit http://www.blacksburg.gov/index.aspx?page=73