Dr. Norman Walton, a fixture on the campus of Alabama State University for thirty-five years, was born in Moffitt, Oklahoma on November 25, 1921, to the late Norman William and Estella Gordon Walton. Young Norman Walton was raised in Wynn, Arkansas and later received a Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from Tennessee A&I State University. He would go on to earn a Doctor of Arts Degree from Carnegie-Mellon University in 1972. Walton became a member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, served in the United States Navy during World War II, married college sweetheart Jimmie P. Thomas, and had four children.
Reflecting on his experiences, Walton was able to color his lectures with a rich reservoir of vivid illustrations. In the classroom, Dr. Walton employed the antidotes of his life, thereby making tangible many of the historical events covered in his presentations. Moreover, several trips to West Africa during 1973 and 1974, led Dr. Walton to create the African Heritage Project, a program designed to expose Alabama teachers and students to West African cultures.
Dr. Walton also made important social and academic contributions. He served as chair of the Department of History and Social Science, and as a long time swim coach, he was inducted into the SWAC hall of fame in 1996. Dr. Walton’s most notable scholarship was, The Walking City,” a firsthand scholarly account of the Montgomery bus boycott. Dr. Walton was also involved in organizations such as the Association for the Study of Afro-American Life and History, the American Historical Association, and the Southern Historical Association.
Life at Alabama State University
Dr. Walton joined the Alabama State College faculty in 1949. He soon took over as chair of the Department of History and Social Science, a position he held until his retirement in 1984. During the intervening period, Dr. Walton left his academician imprint on the minds of thousands of young adults, challenging students to be curious about their antecedents, think critically about their environment, and to be analytical about how the past can inform the future. As a teacher and activist, Dr. Walton became a regular on the speaking circuit, principally discussing subjects relating to African-American history and the civil rights movement.
Dr. Walton’s love for Alabama State was unquestionable, and it extended beyond the classroom. This Alabama State booster worked with scores of students as a swim instructor and as the swim-team coach. Walton would become a long time supporter of Alabama State athletics, resulting in his 1996 induction, as a swim coach, in the SWAC Hall of Fame.
Dr. Walton used his unique lived experiences to make theoretical classroom discussions come alive. As a professor of history during the modern civil rights movement, Dr. Walton gained national attention by publishing, “The Walking City,” a firsthand scholarly account of the Montgomery bus boycott. Walton continued to work within the civil rights movement as an analyst and activist. Dr. Walton could support voter rights initiatives on one-hand, and then translate the meaning of the civil rights movement for thousands of individuals on the other hand.