The 2012 Spirit of America Barrett C. Shelton Freedom award will be presented to
Lieutenant Colonel James L. Walker
United States Army (Retired)
Lieutenant Colonel James L. Walker has been a soldier, historian, philanthropist, advocate for children and an educator. Colonel Walker is a product of the segregated educational system of Alabama. The nurturing and guidance provided by the educators in that system have been largely responsible for any amount of success he has had as an adult.
Lieutenant Colonel James L. Walker was born in Athens, Alabama to James Alvin “Bunt” Walker and Lizzie Mae Walker. He attended various segregated elementary schools in Limestone County. The school sessions began in the hot July heat of the Alabama summers and ran until cotton picking time in late August or early September. After a two month break for cotton picking, the school session started again in late November and ran until May. His mother, a schoolteacher in Limestone County, wanted her son to attend a better school than the church schools that were predominant in Limestone County, so they moved to Athens when he was five years old and he enrolled in the local Colored city school, Miller Elementary.
After completing high school at Trinity High School in Athens, Walker was drafted into the United States Army as a private. After serving in Fort Benning, Georgia and Vietnam, he was honorably discharged in 1969. After returning to the United States, he enrolled in Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia, where he earned a Bachelor of Arts Degree in 1972. At various times throughout the following years he earned two Master of Arts Degrees and two Master of Science Degrees. He also graduated from the US Army’s Command and General Staff College and the US Navy’s Command and General Staff College. He engaged in further studies at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Lieutenant Colonel Walker entered the military for the second time in 1972, serving on active duty as a second lieutenant with the United States Army. During the course of a twenty-four year career, he served at numerous locations throughout the world to include, Korea, Somalia, Germany and several posts in the United States.
After retirement from the Army in 1992, LTC Walker agreed to return to active duty in 1993 to oversee JROTC Operations in Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and West Florida. During this assignment he was responsible for the operation of 121 JROTC Programs and the establishment of 50 new programs throughout the Southeast. Desiring to work directly with kids, he left that position in 1995 to establish the first Army JROTC Program at Austin High School.
At Austin, his cadets have achieved outstanding success. They have earned fifteen consecutive Honor Unit with Distinction ratings from the US Army. They earned the JROTC program a “commended” rating from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Accreditation Committee. Seventeen cadets have been selected to attend one of the nation’s elite military academies or Ivy League Schools. Several have earned four year scholarships to major universities. They have earned more than $10 million dollars in scholarship money. Twice in the last five years, an Austin Cadet has been named one of Alabama’s Young Heroes. More than twenty have been selected for Alabama Boys or Girls State. Fifty- four students have attended the Model United Nations at Harvard and Vanderbilt Universities, and recently one of his cadets was selected to participate in a U.S. State Department student ambassador’s trip to Cambodia.
Lieutenant Colonel Walker and his wife Florence live in Tanner, Alabama. They have two grown children, Toshawnka, who lives in Huntsville, and Kamilah, who lives in Tanner.