Bryan E. WallsUWindsor alumnus Bryan E. Walls is the founder of the John Freeman Walls Historic Site and Underground Railroad Museum.

Alum attributes success to strong Black male mentorship and ancestral strength

UWindsor alumnus Bryan E. Walls (BSc 1969) is a man of many talents. Dentist, historian, griot, husband, consultant, deacon, professor, author, mentor, father, grandfather, Order of Ontario recipient, Order of Canada recipient, Queen Elizabeth II Jubilee Medal recipient… the list goes on.

Dr. Walls, who is now retired from dentistry and founded, owns, and operates The John Freeman Walls Historic Site and Underground Railroad Museum, graduated from the University of Windsor with a bachelor’s degree in science in 1969. He went on to complete his Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) degree at the University of Toronto in 1973. As a licensed member of the Royal College of Dental Surgeons of Ontario, he joined the only a handful of Black dentists to practise in the Windsor-Essex area.

Completing his education during the era of the civil rights and Black power movements, Walls understands how his Underground Railroad heritage helped him to be acutely aware of his positionality in post-secondary institutions. He attended the University of Windsor during Howard McCurdy’s tenure as a microbiology professor, and credits him with bringing meaningful Black representation at the faculty level.

One of Walls’ strongest mentors and influence was his father, Clifford Walls, who in the latter stages of his career worked at the University of Windsor in the 1960s and ’70s as the project supervisor for construction, which involved him in many campus capital projects. He passed down those agile hands fashioned by years of experience in construction to his dentist son.

Skills Bryan Walls acquired in his profession — “those people skills of mutual respect and reconciliation” — allowed him to shift gears after a car accident left him unable to practise dentistry.

In his 1980 historical novel, The Road that Led to Somewhere, Walls depicts his family’s journey on the Underground Railroad from Troublesome Creek, North Carolina, to Puce, Ontario.

His aunt Stella was revered as the family griot, a West African term for keeper of the oral history or family’s history. When she sold to Walls her property which had been in the family since the mid-1800s, she told him there were artifacts in the attic, including a letter to his great-great-grandparents seeking help for an American seeking liberation from slavery.

This sparked the passion towards preservation and promotion of his family’s legacy that led Walls to found The John Freeman Walls Historic Site and Underground Railroad Museum.

He misses dentistry but saying “I leave it in God’s hands and do the best I can,” he finds contentment in preserving history: that of his family, the Underground Railroad, and Black communities in Windsor-Essex.

—Kaitlyn Ellsworth

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