Editor’s note: A previous version of this article used a different spelling of Walker’s first name. The city has since updated the proper spelling.
The Lewes African American Heritage Commission officially recommended Johnnie Walker’s at Lewes Beach as the new name for Beach 2.
The unanimous vote took place during an Aug. 19 meeting, where Walker’s relatives spoke about his contributions to the city.
“I spent all my life with my Uncle Johnnie, and he taught me that we could be what we wanted to be,” said Mattie Walker Green, his niece.
Walker picked cotton prior to moving to Delaware. Once here, he worked in a chicken factory before becoming a successful entrepreneur.
“He took three acres from nothing to something,” she said. “He had holds from Laurel to Georgetown to Milford to Milton. His objective was to show that we, as a race, could be anything we wanted to be.”
Among his accomplishments was owning and operating a restaurant at what is currently known as Beach 2. It was a place for African Americans to eat, listen to music and have a good time, said the Rev. George Edwards, chair of the commission.
Green worked at the restaurant every summer until she was 18.
“I woke up at 4 and got to the restaurant at 6 and picked up all the cups and bottles and everything,” she said. “I spent every summer of my life until I was 18 with my Uncle Johnny.”
Niece Betty Walker Sampson said Johnny had no children, so his brothers’ kids became his children.
“He was just an extraordinary man,” she said. “He went from poor to riches, and helped people along the way.”
She said there was once a street named after Walker in Ellendale, but it has since been renamed. She said her family is proud and honored Lewes is considering naming Beach 2 after him.
“It’s a beautiful thing,” she said. “God bless you guys for doing this.”
Parks and Recreation Commissioner Kay Carnahan recently introduced an idea to assign names to the city’s two guarded beaches, which for years have been known by the generic names of Beach 1 and Beach 2. With so much untold or unrecognized African American history at Beach 2, she said she believed it was an opportunity to honor an African American individual and install informational panels to tell the history.
At its July meeting, the African American heritage commission quickly determined Johnny Walker was the person to be honored. In the month since that meeting, Edwards said it was nice to hear so many positive recollections of Johnnie Walker.
“He always had an ear for listening to what you had to say,” he said. “He was always interested in your concerns. He did a lot for Lewes Beach, but also for the town of Lewes. People who came here who didn’t know where to go or what to do, he always made provisions for them. He was always there to support them in any way he could. It makes me feel good that so many people who remember him have something to say.”
The unanimous recommendation will go to the city’s parks and recreation commission for consideration in September. If approved there, it could go before mayor and city council as early as October.
Anyone who has photos or memories is asked to contact Trina Brown-Hicks at email@example.com or 302-752-8112.
Carnahan is also seeking to rename Beach 1. Her idea is Savannah Beach to coincide with its physical location at the end of Savannah Road.