Today is a holiday. Today we remember Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his unfinished work for racial justice. He’s the one who has a holiday named after him, but there are many others who have been part of this same ongoing work. Including Leroy Hilton Walker. I wonder if any of you have heard of him. I hadn’t until Fred Johnsen brought him to my attention. He was the pastor of this church from 1940 to 1946.
Those were war years. We were at our best during those years. We pulled together and made tremendous sacrifices to win a terrible war that had to be won. But we were also at our worst. Winning wars often requires that. One of the shameful things we did during that war was our treatment of Japanese Americans.
Kenso Kuroda was a student at the University of Washington. He was traveling to the University of Minnesota. His route took him through Nampa, Idaho. It was here that he was asked for the “traveling permit” that was apparently required in those days for people of his race. He didn’t have it. So he was detained in Nampa.
He sent a telegram asking for help to the Dean of Men at the University of Washington, Dean Newhouse. (Are University Deans ever really named Dean?). Dean Newhouse then sent a telegram to Leroy Hilton Walker, pastor of Nampa Methodist Church. Why him? Did they know each other? Was Dean Newhouse a Methodist? Did Methodists in those days have the reputation of standing up for Japanese Americans? We don’t have answers to those questions. We do know that Rev. Walker got right on this. Here is his letter, dated April 9,1942:
Dear Dr. Newhouse,
In regard to the case of Kenzo Kuroda; upon receipt of your telegram I at once began calling both locally and long distance and by the time I had run the thing down, the young man had been released and allowed to proceed unmolested. We wish to commend your spirit and your faithfulness in following up your students and in trying to see that they get a “square deal”.
Leroy H. Walker, Pastor
I’m proud do be in the company of Leroy Hilton Walker as one of the pastors who has been privileged to serve this church. Standing up against .prejudice and injustice is part of who we are. Whether we’re talking about Japanese Americans or African Americans or Muslims or Latinos or sexual minorities, we have a bad habit of treating whole groups of people in unjust ways. Dr. King’s Day is a good day to acknowledge this and to do what we can to make sure all God’s children get a “square deal.”