Long-time Clinton Hill resident Dr. Solly Walker broke barriers as the first African-American basketball player to play for St. John’s University and later dedicated his life to education
Nearly 70 years after Dr. Solly Walker became the first African-American member of the St. John’s University basketball team, then located in Bedford Stuyvesant, a street sign in his honor was unveiled by Councilmember Laurie A. Cumbo on Saturday at the intersection of Irving Place and Putnam Avenue. Family, friends and local residents gathered to commemorate the legacy of the long-time Clinton Hill resident. In attendance was his wife, Minta Gillespie Walker, his four children and 11 grandchildren.
“When we talk about ‘the shoulders we stand on’ here in New York City, Dr. Solly Walker should be who comes to mind,” said Cumbo. “Dr. Walker broke racial barriers at a time when a Black athlete’s mere presence was a statement in itself.”
Born in 1932 in South Carolina, Walker moved to Brooklyn at a young age. The six-foot, four-inch guard/forward attended the Boys High School in Bedford Stuyvesant, before earning an athletic scholarship to St. John’s in 1950. Four years later, in 1954, the New York Knicks selected Walker in the NBA draft.
But, he had other plans. After college, he pursued a career in the New York City educational system. He began as a teacher for children with special needs and eventually worked his way up to principal of P.S. 58 Manhattan High School, now P.S. 35. The 1993 St. John’s Hall of Fame inductee retired in 1999.
Walker died at the age of 85 on April 28, 2017.
“Dr. Walker’s commitment to serving and standing up for his community was admirable off the court as well, with his long career in the NYC educational system working with special-needs children,” said Cumbo. “I am pleased to present this street co-naming in an effort to honor the tremendous life and work of Dr. Solly Walker.”