Eddie Demmings, E.J. Brisker and Eddie Ray Walker left a legacy at the UW

These three founding members of the UW's Black Student Union fought for a better University.

Eddie Ray Walker, who died on December 4, 2023, helped shape the experience of thousands of OMA&D students over the past 55 years. He stands in front of “The Bearers of Culture,” which he painted, in the Samuel E. Kelly Ethnic Cultural Center.

Eddie Demmings, E.J. Brisker and Eddie Ray Walker left their mark on the University of Washington with their ideas and their activism—which Walker further expressed with his paintbrush. All three arrived on campus surprised to find only a few other Black students. As founding members of the UW’s Black Student Union in 1968, they demanded the University do more to recruit and support Black, Native American, Chicano/a and other students of color. They also demanded a more diverse faculty, called for a Black studies program and envisioned an ethnic cultural center. “We needed a building. We needed a space to be together,” Walker said in 2022 on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of Samuel E. Kelly Ethnic Cultural Center.  Their activism catalyzed the creation of the Office of Minority Affairs & Diversity and the Educational Opportunity Program.

Through their advocacy and vision, Walker, Brisker, Demmings and their classmates changed the UW in myriad ways. Perhaps, Walker’s most visible contribution is his mural painting “Bearers of Culture” which hangs near the ceiling in the Kelly ECC. He didn’t ask for permission to do the project, he said. He just bought his own paint, drew the outline freehand and “painted it before anyone could stop me.”

Brisker, a leader in in the effort to create a Black studies program and longtime activist, died on Sept. 21. Walker continued with his art and activism after graduation. He died on December 4. Demmings, who went on to practice law and became general counsel for a public workers’ labor union, died on January 24.