Former U.S. Ambassador Walter Carrington often described growing up in Everett during the 1930s and 1940s not as an oppressive environment for a young black boy like himself – which would have been the norm in America at the time – but rather a “racial cocoon” where he was welcomed everywhere and felt no hint of racial discrimination or prejudice from his friends or his teachers.
It was, as he described it in a heartwarming essay a few years back, “an Atypical Black American Boyhood.” Carrington, 90, grew up in Everett, attended Everett public schools, then went on to Harvard University – preparing him for a distinguished role in the Civil Rights Movement and as ambassador to Senegal and Nigeria.
Locally, in 2017, he was the Grand Marshal of the City of Everett’s colossal 125th anniversary celebration, and last year he was an honored guest in attendance on the opening morning of Encore Boston Harbor.
“Everett then was a very unique city,” he said. “We had a population of 50,000 and only about 50 black families and those black families were scattered throughout the city,” he told the Independent in 2017. “There was no black area. It was very integrated. Later, I learned the National Urban League had done a study and found that Everett was the most integrated city of its kind in the country. I grew up in a very integrated community, which was unique for those times.
“In fact, I grew up in an area with mostly Irish and Italian kids,” he continued. “I was the only black and I would tell people I could swear in Italian with a Sicilian accent before I had ever learned to swear in English. It was a great place to grow up in the 1930s and 1940s. That gave me the ability to thrive and go on and do things I wanted to do.”
Carrington, now of Newton, left behind his wife and constant companion, Arese Carrington.
This week, she said her heart was broken and she was honored to have been by his side.
“My heart is heavy and broken with the passing of my beloved husband Ambassador Walter Carrington,” she said this week. “He was a brilliant, loving gentle husband. We shared a great love and bond, unity, trust and respect for each other. I remember him showing me his childhood home in Everett and going down memory lane of his high school days at Everett High. He was so happy to have been the Everett’s Grand Marshal and as we rode down the streets in an open car, he was pointing out places to me.
It was such an honor for me to be by his side on his courageous journey of selflessness in the service of humanity especially as he fought for human rights and democracy in Nigeria.
“He was such a great man, an activist to the core who did so much for civil rights, human rights, democracy, rule of law and social justice,” she continued. “He was passionate about the important things in life and always showed such humility and compassion. Heartwarming tributes have been pouring in from around the world. He touched so many lives and had an impact on so many countries. His legacies will live on forever.
Arese Carrington said her husband will be laid to rest in the place he regarded as his hometown – Everett. Despite his sojourn round the world, his wishes were to be returned to his home that he cherished so much.
His time at Harvard was a special one, and he was talented in debate and public speaking – something he credited to mentors in Everett like Lt. Gov. Sumner Whittier. After Harvard, he became the youngest member ever of the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD). It was there he was instrumental in deciding a case against the Boston Red Sox that forced the team to integrate racially more than a decade after Jackie Robinson had broken the color barrier.
He was a member of the Peace Corps in Africa, which is what eventually drew him back there as an Ambassador to Senegal and, later, Nigeria.
A stint of four years in Nigeria as Ambassador was truly a life-changing, and life-threatening, stretch of service – and something that defined his renowned career.
Facing a harsh military dictatorship, Carrington decided he would stand up for his values and for American values – things he learned to be dear to him while growing up in Everett. Speaking up was a dangerous thing, but he said he had been resolved to continue calling for democracy in Nigeria.
“That entire experience was something important for me and gave me a chance to speak up in defense of the values I believed in,” he said during the 2017 interview.
Later, after democracy came to the country of Nigeria, the government surprised Carrington by naming the diplomatic area of the capital after him.
Still today, the Water Carrington Crescent exists as the area where more than 12 diplomatic missions call their home in Lagos, Nigeria.
Not bad for a humble kid from Everett who formed those values in the schools and on the streets of Everett, Massachusetts.