Alumni Spotlight: Austin Thomas Walden, ‘1902

Georgia’s first black judge and a civil and voting rights pioneer

Apr. 1, 2018

If you can vote, eat a meal, ride a bus, or attend school in Georgia today, it had a lot to do with FVSU Alumnus Austin Thomas Walden. Walden was the first black Georgian appointed to be a judge after Reconstruction. Before serving as judge, he had a trailblazing legal career which had an incalculable impact in elevating the rights of African-Americans in the state. He led a six-year battle to win pay equity for Georgia’s black teachers in the 1940s, and another to allow African-Americans to vote in party primaries. He was the lead attorney in litigation to force the desegregation of Atlanta’s city buses and public schools, and negotiated the peaceful desegregation of the city’s lunch counters.

Fort Valley, GA native Austin Thomas Walden graduated alone in Fort Valley High and Industrial School’s class of 1902, before earning a bachelor’s degree from what is now Clark Atlanta University and a law degree from the University of Michigan. He began practicing law in Macon at a time when there were very few African-Americans lawyers in the country. He joined the Army during World War I and served as a captain and assistant judge advocate. After serving in the Army, he began practicing law in Atlanta, where he founded the Gate City Bar Association to provide African-American lawyers with resources and promote legal education for African-Americans. At the time, African-Americans were not allowed to be members of most other bar associations. He later co-founded the Atlanta Negro Voters League, helping to increase voter participation. He was one of the first two black Georgians to serve as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention.

On October 10, 2017, the University System of Georgia Board of Regents authorized the naming of the FVSU campus street at the main entrance as Austin Thomas Walden Drive. The official unveiling of the street name occurred during a ceremony led by President Paul Jones on February 20, 2018.

Learn more about Austin Thomas Walden from the New Georgia Encyclopedia and the University of Michigan Law School.

Fort Valley State University