Anna E. Harris Walls

Biographical Database of Black Women Suffragists

Biographical Sketch of Anna E. Harris Walls, 1870-1930

By Lisa Hendrickson, Independent Historian

Anna E. Harris was born in 1870 in Sparta, Georgia to George C. and Margret Harris. On March 26, 1893, she married Reverend Polk Walker Walls, from Memphis, TN (1862-1955). According to the US Census he had a four-year college degree, institution unknown. Rev, Walls lead different congregations for the A. M. E. Church, which meant that the couple moved frequently, living in many places including: Hot Springs, AK (1900), Pine Bluff, AK (1908-1910), Birmingham, AL (1914-1916), Selma, AL (1916), Montgomery, AL (1919-1923), Birmingham, AL (1927-1930), Lansing, MI (1930-1931), and Jackson, MI (1939-1952). They had ten children--Julian, Beulah V., Preston W., James H., Polk W. Jr., Evans H., Ramon A., Martha Q., Ida E., and Mary E., but not all lived into adulthood.

Not much information on Anna can be found, but as the wife of a pastor, she was very involved in church activities including serving as President of the Senior League of the St. John A. M. E. Church in Montgomery, AL which hosted events for its church members. In December 1918, Anna and Rev. Walls hosted WWI war veteran George L. Vaughan when he gave a speech at the church for a local NAACP meeting.

Gaining woman suffrage in Alabama took many years to achieve, especially for black women. After a stall on early efforts, woman suffrage picked up momentum in the 1910s. The Selma Suffrage League was created in 1910, followed by the Birmingham Equal Suffrage League in 1911. On�October 9, 1912,�Alabama suffragists formed a statewide group, the Alabama Equal Suffrage Association (AESA) by combining the Selma and Birmingham Equal Suffrage Leagues. The AESA was affiliated with NAWSA and established its headquarters in Birmingham. The Alabama Federation of Colored Women's Clubs was created in 1910 and fought for woman suffrage in addition to working on other issues to improve the lives of Black people. As the Alabama State Legislature was considering the Nineteenth Amendment in July of 1919, suffragists from all over Alabama traveled to Montgomery to lobby for woman suffrage. Due to the influence of strong anti-suffrage opponents and key senators, the amendment was rejected. Nothing is known about Anna's suffrage involvement, but it is possible that she was part of the suffrage lobbying group.

After the Nineteenth Amendment was ratified (Alabama did not ratify until 1953), African American women were frequently thwarted in their attempts to register to vote, blocked by obstructionist tactics including outright refusals, threats, poll taxes, and literacy tests. In Suffrage at 100: Women in American Politics Since 1920 Stacie Taranto and Leandra Zarnow write that, "In Montgomery, Alabama, registrars turned away three pairs of husbands and wives: the

Reverend P. W. Walls, who was the pastor of the A.M.E. Church, and ‘wife', Professor Harry S. Murphy, who was a former secretary of the Montgomery NAACP, ‘and wife', and Dr. A.W. West, and ‘wife'. The wives were unnamed, but apparently the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment drew them and their husbands to the polls. These men were described as "prominent members of the race," a status their wives presumably shared. That status, however, did not shield them from discrimination at the registrar's office." The book also discusses the reasons why husband and wives might have gone together to register to vote explaining that, "the company was welcome because it offered a measure of safety and because the presence of ‘respectable' associates might reduce the odds that applicants would be treated with discourtesy." All three couples who were denied the right to vote were members of the St. John A. M. E. Church where Reverend Polk W. Walls was the pastor.

St. John A. M. E. Church was an important gathering place for the Montgomery African American community. The church was founded in 1871 and construction of the present building, located at 807 Madison Avenue, occurred from 1873-1888. Churches were often the place African Americans held their meetings covering a wide range of subjects including woman suffrage, politics, and civil rights issues. This was the case at St. John A. M. E. Church. Events that were held there over the years included:

*The War Kitchen in Montgomery, whose purpose was to further America's war cause, was finally opened to colored women in March 1918. Both housewives and businesses supported the War Kitchen including the Walls.

*Meetings of the local Montgomery chapter of the NAACP, and during one in September 1919, Dr. Walls discussed improvements needed in Montgomery and referred to suggestions made by the NAACP's local secretary Mr. H S Murphy. Walls "called for greater centralization of effort and pointed out examples in social and religious life which show the effect of centering our strength on one important object."

*Rosa Parks was a member of St. John A. M. E. Church. After she refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery city bus, concerned citizens began a boycott and many were arrested. At the beginning of the Montgomery Bus Boycott Trial, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. held a mass meeting at the church on March 19, 1956. In his opening remarks, he urged the protestors to "maintain their morale and declared that ‘we want no cowards in our crowd.'"

Dr. Walls was a prominent pastor and was asked to give speeches at various large events outside the churches he ministered for. Some of these events were:

*In January 1910 he was the principal orator at the annual meeting of the Lincoln Emancipation Club held at Philander Smith College. His speech was titled, "Elements in Race Building." In July 1914 he traveled from Birmingham to Atlanta to speak before the Young People's Congress of the A. M. E. Church. Every state in the Union was represented and about 100 delegates were there from Birmingham alone.

*In March 1918, he spoke at the Fourth Annual Convention of the Inter-denominational Christian Endeavor Union of Alabama.

*In April 1919 he gave the principal address at the opening of the NAACP's reception honoring returned colored soldiers from France held in Selma, GA.

*In January 1920, Montgomery Mayor W.A. Gunter Jr. summoned 65 well-known blacks to a meeting at city hall to help form a black branch of the National Associated Charities organization. Reverend Walls was one of the attendees.

*In March 1921 he opened the fortieth annual session of the Alabama Colored Teachers Association Convention with a speech titled ‘What are you going to do when the Lord sounds the trumpet?' In his speech he said, "We should realize the relation as men and not white and black. Men doing the same equal service and equal pay. If God is just the time will come when equity will prevail."

*In October 1921 he acted as the master of ceremonies for Bethel College's opening in Montgomery, AL.

Anna died of cancer in 1930 while the couple was living in Lansing, MI. After her death, Reverend Walls married Evelyn H. Walls. He died October 23, 1955 at the age of 93.


US Cities US City Directories 1822-1995

US Census: 1880, 1900, 1910, 1920, 1930, 1940

Arkansas Birth Certificates 1914-1917

Michigan Death Certificates

Tennessee Marriage Certificates

Harper, Ida Husted, The History of Woman Suffrage, New York, J. J. Little & Ives, 1922, pgs. 2, 4, 5.

Caver, Joseph D., From Marion to Montgomery: The Early Years of Alabama State University, 1867-1925, New South Books, 2020.

Burnes, Valerie Pope, "Will Alabama Women Vote? The Women's Suffrage Movement in Alabama from 1890-1920," Alabama Review, January 2020, pgs. 28-39.

"King begins boycott trial: holds mass meeting at St. John AME Church", The Martin Luther King Jr. Research and Education Institute website

"Emancipation Club Meets," Arkansas Democrat (Little Rock, AK), January 2, 1910, p. 9.

"Dr. Walls at Atlanta Meeting," The Birmingham News, July 19, 1914, p. 23.

"War Kitchen Opens in Montgomery," The Emancipator (Montgomery, AL), March 16, 1918, p. 1.

"Lieutenant George L. Vaughan, USA," The Emancipator (Montgomery, AL), December 28, 1918, p. 1.

"Negro Soldiers are Banquetted," The Birmingham Reporter, April 12, 1919, p. 1.

"NAACP Notes," The Emancipator (Montgomery, AL), September 20, 1919, p. 4.

"The Senior League," The Emancipator (Montgomery, AL), June 21, 1919, p. 2.

"NAACP Holds Enthusiastic Meeting," The Emancipator (Montgomery, AL), p. 1.

"Colored Teachers at Old Ship Church," The Montgomery Advertiser, March 25, 1921, p. 7.

"College Opens With Bright Outlook," The Birmingham Reporter, October 8, 1921, p. 1.

"Exaltation of Motherhood, Subject of Sermon," The Birmingham Reporter, May 17, 1930, pg 5.

Mrs. Anna E. Walls, Lansing State Journal (Lansing, MI), November 24, 1930, p. 4.

"Exaltation of Motherhood, Subject of Sermon," The Birmingham Reporter, May 17, 1930, p. 5.

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