TAMPA — Muriel Walker Manning was her family's historian. In many ways, her family history and that of Hillsborough County overlapped. Though bedridden for the last dozen years, she remembered every detail.
Her father, Charlie Walker, moved his family to Florida from Georgia in 1923, settling in the Citrus Park area. The minister and laborer sought a better life for his family.
Muriel Walker, then 9, had no school to attend in a segregated northwest Hillsborough. Her father, a Baptist minister, waited in an administrator's office for three days before someone called on him. When they finally did, plans for the Citrus Park Colored School were hatched.
Mrs. Walker did her father proud, putting herself through Florida A&M University while in her 40s and teaching culinary arts in Hillsborough schools for 27 years. Mrs. Walker, who broke racial barriers with hard work and good humor, died Sunday. She was 95.
Young Muriel had to wait three years with no school before the Citrus Park Colored School opened in 1926 with one teacher. She graduated from Middleton High School in 1936 at age 21. She worked in a New Jersey factory making military uniforms, and as a housekeeper.
Back in Tampa in the late 1940s, she met John Manning, who delivered liquor boxes by day and played the bass fiddle in the evening. The couple had no children. A fine seamstress, Mrs. Manning made bridal gowns for friends. She was a generous giver.
"At church, she heard that the secretary needed a new typewriter," said Curtiss Walker Wilson, 81, Mrs. Manning's sister. "Next thing you know, the secretary had a new typewriter. That's the kind of person she was."
After graduating from FAMU in 1956, Mrs. Manning taught culinary arts. She also led summer workshops in institutional cooking for Bethune-Cookman University.
At home, she was a stickler for cleanliness, and insisted others wash their hands before touching the refrigerator door handle. After her husband died in 1984, she built a home in Ybor City next door to her sister and grew roses and hot peppers.
Mrs. Manning never learned to drive, and was always up for running errands with friends. "I used to tell her that she was the president of the Back Seat Drivers Association of America," her sister said.
The Citrus Park Colored School closed in the late 1940s. In 1996, the Hillsborough County Commission declared the building a historic landmark.
About the same time, school authorities decided to name a new middle school after Mrs. Manning's father. Mordecai Walker, 85, Mrs. Manning's brother, said his sister's reaction to the Charlie Walker Middle School, which opened in 1997, was profound.
"She broke down and cried," said Walker, "knowing the struggle that we all had."
Andrew Meacham can be reached at (727) 892-2248 or [email protected]