Roanoke civil rights leader honored in street renaming

Published: Jun. 16, 2023 at 4:41 PM EDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) - In Roanoke Friday, a civil rights leader was posthumously honored in a special ceremony. The family of the Reverend Dr. R.R. Wilkinson knows you might not recognize his name, but they hope to change that.

For the Wilkinson sisters, a name can carry with it a sense of pride and a sense of duty, even across generations.

You can listen to this story on the Hometown Stories podcast here:

“Good afternoon everyone, I’m the youngest of the Wilkinson daughters.” said Danita Wilkinson to a crowd gathered between Lucy Addison Middle School and Washington Park. “I’m the baby!”

For them, being a Wilkinson meant becoming a well-raised soldier in the household of their father, The Reverend Dr. R.R. Wilkinson.

If they were soldiers in the fight for civil rights, their father was the general.

“Reverend Wilkinson not only risked his own safety and security, but he risked that of his family, and he risked that of his church,” said Minister Chuck Rhodes during Friday’s ceremony. “There were churches bombed in the south for doing a lot less work.”

During Friday’s event, family members and city leaders honored Wilkinson’s extensive work as pastor and President of Roanoke’s NAACP.

He was instrumental in integrating Roanoke’s lunch counters, theaters and schools. But his daughters also had a part to play.

“Well he talked to us and said, you have to be brave, do this for me, do this for history,” said daughter Cassandra Lighty Wilkinson, describing being part of Roanoke’s school integration.

But sometimes history forgets a name, and a face and a fight until a new generation reminds everyone.

“Today we honor such a leader who fearlessly stood against the shackles of injustice, during the turbulent time in Roanoke’s civil rights movement.” said Nathaniel Benjamin, Wilkinson’s grandson.

Thanks to the work of Benjamin, who researched and documented his grandfather’s legacy in a website, the work of the Reverend is being celebrated.

And Friday, Carver Avenue Northwest was given Wilkinson’s name to honor him in a neighborhood he fought tirelessly to support.

While recognition and remembrance have come today, Benjamin says there is more to do.

“He would also say well we need to do more than just have a name, a street named after him,” he said. “We have to do more as a people. And he would say, the fight still continues.”

He was also honored in Richmond Thursday evening at a Strong Men and Strong Women in Virginia History Ceremony.

The family of Wilkinson will also be received for special services and events throughout the weekend to honor the Reverend.