Samuel Walker is a widely quoted expert on issues of civil liberties, policing and criminal justice policy. He is the author of 14 books on those subjects, which have appeared in a combined total of 36 different editions. He has been interviewed in every major media outlet in the United States and around the world, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, PBS/Frontline, CNN and others.
His book, Presidents and Civil Liberties From Wilson to Obama, won the Langum Prize for the Best Book in American Legal History for 2012. Walker is Emeritus Professor of Criminal Justice at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, where he taught from 1974 to 2005. He received a Ph.D. in American history from Ohio State University in 1973.
Walker is perhaps best known for his work on police accountability (including two books and two reports on “Driving While Female”) and for his definitive history of the American Civil Liberties Union, In Defense of American Liberties, which was first published in 1990 and issued in a revised edition in 2000 by Southern Illinois University Press. He is currently a member of the International Association of Chiefs of Police’s National Working Group on Sexual Offenses by Police Officers.
In 2011, Walker won the Western Society of Criminology’s W.E.B. Dubois Award for contributions to the field of criminology in the area of race and ethnicity. Read the Omaha World-Herald’s coverage of the honor.
More recently, Walker has turned his critical eye to the question of how civil liberties have fared under presidents in the modern era of rights enforcement, from Woodrow Wilson to Barack Obama. His new book, Presidents and Civil Liberties From Wilson to Obama: A Story of Poor Custodians, was published by Cambridge University Press. The book examines the civil liberties records of 17 presidents, beginning with Woodrow Wilson. The history of presidents and civil liberties is filled with surprises and contradictions. Some of the country’s most esteemed presidents were responsible for the worst violations of civil liberties. With the Japanese American internment, for example, Franklin D. Roosevelt is the only president who ever put Americans in concentration camps.
In September 2014, Walker launched a web site calendar, Today in Civil Liberties History, which has short descriptions of civil liberties events for each day of the year. Each event also includes recommended books, reports, web sites, Youtube videos, or other materials about the event.
In his student days, Walker was an active participant in the civil rights movement. He was a volunteer in the historic Mississippi “Freedom Summer” in 1964 to help register black voters in the state. One of his fellow activists in a voter registration training session was Andrew Goodman, who, along with Mickey Schwerner and James Chaney, was murdered at the very beginning of the project summer by members of the Ku Klux Klan (with the complicity of local police).
An interview with Sam Walker just before leaving for Mississippi appeared in a 1964 issue of The Saturday Evening Post.
The year 2014 marked the 50th anniversary of the 1964 Mississippi Freedom Summer project, in which 1,000 college student volunteers, most of whom were white, spent the summer in Mississippi attempting to register African-American voters. In the racist and violent atmosphere of the state, only 7 percent of eligible African-American voters were then registered. On the first day of Freedom Summer, June 21, 1964, three members of the project –James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Mickey Schwerner– were kidnapped and murdered by KKK members. Walker recalled his experience in an essay written for the NAACP LDF. He was also interviewed about the experience for a story in the Omaha World-Herald.
Walker has posted original documents from his experience in Mississippi on the Civil Rights Veterans web site. This also included the covers of 21 vinyl LPs of songs and interviews from the southern civil rights movement.
In the 1960s and early 1970s Sam protested the Vietnam War. The picture on the right shows him with other protesters in Omaha preparing signs for the October 15, 1969 Moratorium against the war.
In recognition of his scholarship and achievements, Walker has won numerous awards, grants and fellowships. His book Presidents and Civil Liberties From Wilson to Obama won the Langum Prize for Best Book in American Legal History in 2012. He was awarded a $1 million Congressional earmark for a Police Professionalism Initiative (1992-1995); fellowships from the Ford Foundation and the Open Society Institute; the National ACLU Tribute to Civil Libertarians Award (2006); Faculty Member of the Year at the University of Omaha (2002); and the Distinguished Alumni award from his alma mater, Ohio State University (2001).
Walker is also an avid collector of items linked to history and music, two of his passions. He owns about 10,000 vinyl LPs of jazz, R&B and folk music, and has also amassed hundreds of original posters of presidents, civil rights, and various pop culture and political events. His collecting has now extended to sheet music, and he now has more than 100 items from the World War I period and numerous presidential sheet music items.
His posters on the civil rights movement – including several WW II-era government posters ordering Japanese residents into internment camps – were exhibited at the University of Nebraska at Omaha library in early 2010 in a show called Posters and Politics. An exhibit of jazz album covers, entitled “The Jazz Art of David Stone Martin,” was exhibited in the same gallery in April-May, 2011.
In 2012, Walker acquired the record collection of folk singer and folklorist Guy Carawan in return for a contribution to the Highlander Research and Education Center, with which Carawan and his wife, Candie, were associated with for many decades. The Carawan Collection consists of about 1,000 LP records of folk music from around the world. Guy Carawan is credited with having taught “We Shall Overcome” to the leaders of the sit-ins at a conference in Raleigh, North Carolina, on April 15, 1960. SNCC was organized at that conference.
On his visit to Highlander to pack up and move the Carawan Collection in 2012, Walker took a set of photographs of Guy and Candie Carawan and their home at the Highlander Center.
Sam’s collecting mania extends to sheet music. In early 2017 he put together an exhibit of World War I-related sheet music to mark the 100th anniversary of U.S. entry into the war in April 1917. For a Power Point version of the exhibit, click here.
Born in Indianapolis, Indiana, and raised in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, Walker has been a resident of Omaha since 1974. He and his partner, Mary Ann Lamanna, marked 30 years together in September 2011 by spending a week in Paris. They attend movies and Bruce Springsteen concerts with a complete disregard for professional work schedules and budgets.