Colorado Mesa University will be removing the name of Walter Walker, a former member of the Ku Klux Klan and a former publisher of the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel, from its soccer and lacrosse stadium.
CMU President Tim Foster said after holding a discussion with a group of students, alumni and staff that while Walker has a complex history, he felt his involvement with the Klan was “a bridge too far” when it came to honoring him.
“They talked about how now it’s a place that I share my memories because I compete with my teammates and my brothers and my sisters and I have the leader of the Grand Junction Klan, the founder of the Grand Junction Klan, in that context,” Foster said. “That just is impossible for them to get over. So we will be moving forward with taking his name off that stadium.”
According to interviewees from the Mesa County Oral History Project, Walker helped bring the Ku Klux Klan to Grand Junction and was a member. He later turned against the group and published editorials in the Daily Sentinel attacking the KKK and was even the target of violence from Klan members.
He continued to be a leader in the community. His local accomplishments include construction of The Avalon and establishing both the local veterans hospital and Mesa Junior College. He’s also credited with bringing air service to Grand Junction.
Foster said in its decision, CMU and the students also weighed all the good Walker did in the community.
“The point really comes down to how appropriate is it to honor him on this campus with our students,” Foster said. “Those students still reflected as we talked about it, along with alums and members of the community, they conceded he did good things. He was not an inherently evil person, but you cannot erase the connection to this country’s probably most heinous organization.”
Antonio Clark, a CMU alumni and Grand Junction resident, praised Foster’s decision to remove Walker’s name. He is working with the group Right and Wrong (RAW), but said they had not reached out to Foster about the name of Walker Field.
“I’m glad CMU is stepping out to the forefront and doing what’s right,” Clark said. “I love it. I love the fact that Tim Foster realizes the importance of it and what it represents. The fact that he changed it shows that he is being conscious of the times we’re living in and understood if there was any time to do it, it was right now.”
Walker is currently featured with a commemorative plaque at the entrance of the stadium as well as at the top of a large sign with a display screen at the corner of 12th Street and Orchard Avenue.
Walker was the Sentinel publisher from 1911 to 1956. His son Preston Walker took over the position in 1956 and remained until 1970.
Former Daily Sentinel Publisher Ken Johnson, who helped get the stadium named after Walker, said he understood that the university had the right to change the name, but felt like Walker’s history was not being represented fairly. He disputed reports that Walker founded the Klan in Grand Junction, crediting a businessman from Denver instead, and emphasized Walker’s well-documented history working to remove the Klan’s influence from Grand Junction.
Going forward, Foster said the university will not be in a hurry to rename the soccer/lacrosse stadium. He said that a process will be put in place to include many voices and ideas about who should receive that honor if the university decided to rename the stadium.
“If and when we decide to rename it, you don’t want to have that naming overshadowed by the removal of his name,” Foster said. “So we’re going to press pause and let folks come forward with folks they think it should be named after or it might well be that folks don’t want to name it for anyone.”
CMU does not yet have a time frame for when it will remove Walker’s name from the stadium.