Monday, June 18, 2018
News Roundup

Maxine Walker Giddings had front-row seat in civil rights movement

TRINITY — The photograph picked up by newspapers across the country became a focal point of the civil rights movement in 1960.

It showed a young white man, Paul Laprad, being pulled from a lunch counter stool by a group of white men while a young black woman, Maxine Walker, watches the melee over her right shoulder.

The counter was forbidden to blacks. Walker's expression, however, suggests she wasn't going anywhere.

She went on to participate in several other sit-ins, sometimes joined by John Lewis, now a U.S. congressman, and fellow civil rights icon Bernard Lafayette.

She married and raised three children before settling a few years ago in the Trinity area with her husband, Brandford Giddings Sr.

On Monday, two days before she would have turned 74, Mrs. Walker Giddings died at the Marliere Hospice Care Center in New Port Richey.

"In many ways, considering how young she was and how young the movement was at the time, she and John Lewis and Bernard Lafayette, they were key figures in the beginnings of the civil rights movement," said Dan Callaghan, corresponding secretary for the African American Club of Pasco and vice president of the West Pasco Historical Society.

A few weeks before Mrs. Walker Giddings died, Callaghan prepared a brief summary about her life and role in the civil rights movement.

A student at Fisk University in Nashville, Mrs. Walker Giddings was born to an upper-class family. Her father, Dr. Matthew Walker Sr., was a doctor and surgery department chair man at Meharry Medical College in Nashville.

She was introduced to the movement by the Rev. Jim Lawson, who was sent to Nashville by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to teach students about nonviolent resistance.

Mrs. Walker Giddings met King numerous times, as well as then-NAACP Chief Counsel Thurgood Marshall, who became a U.S. Supreme Court justice.

The photo that captured the lunch counter attack was taken in February 1960.

Mrs. Walker Giddings, at 19, is wearing a light-colored coat and thick, black glasses. Her arms are by her side. She seems unwilling to leave. Her face shows determination.

Eventually, the crowd dispersed and she and her friends were arrested, Callaghan said.

Lunch counters that barred blacks — in this case, at a department store in Nashville — became frequent targets for sit-ins and Mrs. Walker Giddings was often among the protesters demanding equal treatment, he said.

As a result of that protest in 1960, blacks in Nashville started organizing a resistance movement. Three months later, six downtown lunch counters started serving blacks.

"She was highly intelligent and just a sweet person," Callaghan recalled. "She wasn't a big person, but she had such a presence."

Rich Shopes can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6236.

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