A.T Walden (1885-1965)
by Tiffany Davis
Austen Thomas Walden, a civil rights activist and attorney, graduated from the University of
Michigan Law School with a degree in law in 1911. A Georgia native, Walden was “the son of Jeff
Walden and Jennie Tomlin, former slaves” and experienced racial segregation and prejudice that was prevalent in the South during his lifetime. 1 His personal experience with discrimination and racism helped influence his desire to become a lawyer and help to break down the social barriers between the races.
Walden was a well-respected lawyer and was revered for his experience in practicing law. He also held the position of “dean of the Auburn Avenue business fraternity”; A.T. Walden even had the “honorary titles such as “Colonel” and “Judge,” bestowed upon him by his fellow lawyers. 2 Because of his venerated status, Walden was subject to more preferential treatment, even though he was an African-American during a time of great racial prejudice and segregation, he was treated with more deference than other African-American lawyers. However, despite the somewhat preferential treatment given to him by powerful Whites like Ivan Allen Jr. it only emphasized the segregation on the races to Walden.
During the student movement in Atlanta during 1960 and 1961, Walden was working alongside fellow attorney, Donald Hollowell. Both attorneys worked together to help pursue racial equality for students in colleges across the south. They worked with the students in Atlanta to help desegregate schools and progress racial equality.
One news article from the Marietta Journal showcases the professional relationship between Walden and Hollowell, and to the NAACP, in their pursuit of desegregating libraries in Savannah, Georgia.
The previous case dealing with the desegregation of schools was one of the many instances where A. T Walden showcased his strive for racial equality. Other examples of his fight for civil rights and equality occurred “in the late 1940s [where] Walden litigated the equalization of pay for black and white teachers in Atlanta. He also fought for the desegregation of Atlanta public schools in a series of lawsuits”. 3 His career was marked with various cases which were dedicated to equality, “including pay equity for black teachers, allowing African Americans to vote in party primaries, and the desegregation of Atlanta city buses and public schools”. 4 Walden was dedicated to desegregation and specifically worked with schools, teachers, and students. This involvement with the education system and dedication to desegregation encouraged Walden to work with the Atlanta Student Movement in the 1960s.
Along with helping represent the NAACP with Hollowell, Walden was also involved with the student sit-ins at Rich’s Department Store. Together with Hollowell, Walden helped to represent the various students that were arrested during the sit-ins. The sit-ins are some of the most iconic moments of the Civil Rights Movement, because of the involvement of the students. Walden’s representation of the students and being co-counsel to Donald Hollowell made him an essential figure in the sit-ins, as he represented the voices of the segregated and detained.
- American National Biography.https://www.law.umich.edu/historyandtraditions/students/Pages/ProfilePage.aspx?SID=8923&Year=1911
- from pg. 395 from Branch, Taylor. America in the King Years 1954-63. Simon and Schuster, 1988.
- Meakin, Kate http://www.blackpast.org/aah/walden-t-1885-1965
Jones, LaDawn. Feb. 14,2018. https://www.georgiapol.com/2018/02/14/austin-thomas-walden-georgia-black-history/