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Bishop Alexander Walters: Religious Leader and Civil Rights Activist

Noted religious leader and civil rights activist Bishop Alexander Walters was instrumental in establishing the National Afro-American League and later, the Afro-American Council. Both organizations, despite being short-lived, served as predecessors to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

Early Life and Education

Alexander Walters was born in 1858 in Bardstown, Kentucky.

Walters was the sixth of eight children born into slavery. By the age of seven, Walters was freed from slavery through the 13th Amendment. He was able to attend school and showed great scholastic ability, enabling him to receive a full scholarship from the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church to attend private school.

In 1877, Walters had obtained a license to serve as a pastor. Throughout his career, Walters worked in cities such as Indianapolis, Louisville, San Francisco, Portland, Oregon, Cattanooga, Knoxville and New York City. In 1888, Walters was presiding over Mother Zion Church in New York City. The following year, Walters was chosen to represent the Zion Church at the World’s Sunday School Convention in London. Walters extended his overseas travel by visiting Europe, Egypt, and Israel.

By 1892 Walters was selected to become a bishop of the Seventh District of the General Conference of the AME Zion Church.

In later years, President Woodrow Wilson invited Walters to become an ambassador to Liberia. Walters declined because he wanted to promote AME Zion Church educational programs throughout the United States.

While presiding over Mother Zion Church in Harlem, Walters met T. Thomas Fortune, editor of the New York Age.

Fortune was in the process of establishing the National Afro-American League, an organization that would fight against Jim Crow legislation, racial discrimination and lynching. The organization began in 1890 but was short-lived, ending in 1893. Nevertheless, Walters’ interest in racial inequality never waned and by 1898, he was ready to establish another organization.

Inspired by the