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CMU's Walker Field

From President Foster

Originally published June 12 and updated June 19, 2020

To suggest that we live in interesting times would be the definition of an understatement. The combination of a historic pandemic combined with the horrific death of George Floyd has created a moment-in-time during which history is being made around us. On Friday June 19, the Colorado Mesa University Board of Trustees voted unanimously to support removing the name “Walker Field” from CMU’s highly visible campus athletic stadium. This decision was presented to the board with favorable recommendation from my office, and I am pleased at the message their vote sends to the nation.

During the recent past, more details emerged about Walter Walker and his association with the Ku Klux Klan. For Colorado Mesa University and the Board of Trustees the decision is not whether Mr. Walker was an important historical figure in the development of Grand Junction, but rather the question is whether he deserves to be honored by having a prominent campus stadium named for him. The answer is clearly no.

The decision to remove the current name from Walker Field doesn’t ignore the fact that the late Walter Walker contributed a good many things in the community. However, civic contributions and good deeds don’t eliminate the fact he was instrumental in bringing the Ku Klux Klan to Grand Junction in 1924. Having researched the matter thoroughly, former Daily Sentinel advertising head and columnist Al Look noted that Walker contacted the Grand Dragon of Colorado in order to bring the Klan to the Western Slope. In his authoritative book on the Klan in Colorado, Hooded Empire, author Robert Alan Goldberg (who researched many documents, including the Klan’s own records and meeting minutes in writing the book) confirmed Look’s assertion.

In the past, ambiguity, historical uncertainty and the complexity of Walker’s life, he later turned and fought against the Klan, created a fog around who he was. Removing his name from the stadium has always been a difficult conversation. In this specific moment, the decision doesn’t seem so ambiguous. If one takes time to talk with the students at CMU – which I have done – students of all races and ethnicities see this issue in clear terms: a university athletic facility should not be named after a man who was affiliated with the Klan. Period. Ask yourself what an African American athlete is to think when asked to play on a field named for the man who brought the Klan to Grand Junction?

Does this mean Walter Walker and his role in the community should be erased from the annals of history? Certainly not. Such a line of thinking is dangerous — from history only do we learn. But perhaps the place to explore the entirety of Walker’s legacy, good and bad, is in a museum or library instead of in a place of prominence on a CMU athletic facility.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn survived the soviet gulag prisons during the last century. In his suffering he coined the phrase, “The line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.” In this he meant no person is morally pure, and that all people are capable of bad things. Certainly, if complete moral purity is the standard by which we measure appropriateness of naming rights, no person can hope to meet the standard. If we are to draw lines, which we must, this moment-in-time helps provide clarity in understanding the gravity of any one person’s specific transgressions: Walkers’ KKK affiliation is one such line we must draw.

Others might reasonably say, “where does it end?” Do the known or alleged transgressions of John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr. or Thomas Jefferson diminish their legacy of good? This debate requires people of good faith to do a lot of listening, reflecting on the lessons of history and combing back to the principles which have enabled our Republic – imperfect as it may be – to endure. Here at CMU, we’re choosing to seize this moment in time by differentiating between honoring and remembering the legacy of Walter Walker on our campus.  Human beings are complex and each of our actions have consequences. We will remember Walter Walker but will no longer keep his name in a place of prominence on our campus.

CMUNow Editor’s note: This statement was modified on June 19 to reflect developments that resulted from a special meeting of the CMU Board of Trustees. During this meeting the board voted to affirm an administrative and student led recommendation to rename the stadium formally called, “Walker Field.”

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Written by Tim Foster