Born August 3, 1798, in Massachusetts, Kwaku Walker Lewis came from a middle-class background and would be an active part of the Underground Railroad and abolitionist groups. He was also involved in Lowell’s business and religious communities during the 19th century.
Lewis came from a large family which included eight other siblings. His family would move to Cambridge early in his childhood. Here he would apprentice as a barber and eventually go into business for himself. The profession proved fruitful as he was able to own a number of buildings in Boston.
He would later take his family to Lowell in the 1830s because of better business opportunities brought on by the industrial revolution. In Lowell, he and his brother-in-law opened a barbershop which thrived. Walker Lewis was also a ranking freemason.
Abolitionist Activities in Massachusetts
As a result of his successes in business, he became a pillar of the community and a part of the abolitionist movement in the state. This involved the formation of the Massachusetts General Colored Association, the first all-Black organization in the country.
He also participated in the African Human Society where he was elected president of the Boston branch in 1831. The organization performed social services for poor Blacks in the city including the founding of the Boston African School.
Perhaps his most well-known role while in Boston was as an agent on the Underground Railroad. Walker Lewis’ Lowell house served as a stop during the 1840s and 1850s. His son Enoch ran a clothier as a front to help escapees in changing their appearance. Lewis’ barbershop served the same purpose at the time.
While Walker Lewis experienced racism and pushback in Massachusetts, he was able to use his influence to push the state’s anti-slavery and abolitionist movements. His next challenge would come following a change of faith when he left the Episcopal Church and became a Mormon.