“Ruby and Clifton were my two favorite Walkers,” recalled Clifton’s sister-in-law Rita Bell Walker. “Of the whole family, those were my two favorites.”
At 80, Mrs. Walker recalled the murder of her brother-in-law, Clifton Walker
. She spoke with me over the phone in April 2010, from her daughter’s home in New Orleans.
Clifton was “a very decent sort,” she said. “I'm not sure how much education he had, but I know that he worked real hard and he sort of lifted himself up.”
The weekend of the murder, Clifton’s brother Elmo and his wife Rita were in from the north to visit family in Woodville and New Orleans.
“They seemed to feel that since we had come down from Milwaukee that my husband may have had something to do with the Civil Rights Movement,” Rita recalled. “They said that maybe they thought that the two of them would be together and they would pretty much get both of them at the same time.”
Elmo Walker and Rita Bell had met and married in her home city of New Orleans in 1949 and moved north a few years later for better work opportunities outside the segregated South. In Milwaukee, Elmo found a job at Ladish Cudahy Forging and Rita worked as a nurse.
While Elmo and Rita were establishing themselves in Milwaukee their two oldest children were being raised by Rita’s family in New Orleans. They had three more children in Milwaukee.
The time came in February 1964 for Rita and Elmo to bring their first two children back home. They got some time off from their jobs and drove south with the three small Milwaukee-born children, one a newborn.
The Milwaukee Walkers made it to Woodville on Friday, February 28—in time to have lunch with Clifton and Ruby Walker and their children before Clifton went off to the International Paper Plant for the 3-11 pm shift, from which he never made it home.
After Clifton went off to work, Elmo and Rita drove down to New Orleans to Rita’s family to get their two eldest sons. They stayed two nights in New Orleans, then drove back to Woodville on Sunday, via Baton Rouge, where they stopped to see other relatives.
“When my husband and I and the kids got to Baton Rouge,” Rita remembered, “we couldn't find any of the relatives at home. My husband said something is wrong.”
They had planned to go up to Woodville with Clifton and Elmo’s Baton Rouge brother-in-law Wright Williams, who was married to their sister Alma. Instead they proceeded to Woodville alone.
On one of the local Wilkinson County roads, not far from Clifton and Ruby’s, Elmo and Rita came on Wright Williams. He was heading in the opposite direction, having just come from the Walker family land, off of Route 563.
“He was the one who told us that Clifton had been murdered,” Rita said, “and we were so shocked we couldn't believe it. We just couldn't believe it.
“He turned around and we all went out to Clifton's house. And his mother lived just up the road from them. So we went to the mother's house and that's where we all convened.”
Rita felt a strong affinity with Ruby and remained close with her until she died in 1992.
“There's just some people you care more for, and you feel more comfortable with than others,” Rita explained. “Ruby was very quiet. She didn't believe in a lot of visiting here and there. She stayed at home with her children.
“I know that she suffered a lot. I loved her dearly, like a sister.”
(Photo: Ruby Phipps Walker, courtesy of Catherine Walker Jones
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