By the History Center of Lake Forest-Lake Bluff
Walker Sales was one of the earliest members of the Lake Forest police force. His work is a testament both to the deep roots of our Black community and to the vital role African Americans have played in building Lake Forest. Born in 1864 in Morganfield, Ky., to Emily Sales, Sales came to Lake Forest around 1890, after years working as a farm laborer in Kentucky. With him came his daughter Mamie, who was born circa 1889. In the 1900 census, he and his family were among about 100 Black residents living in the town of 2,200.
Walker Sales served as a member of the Lake Forest Police Department for nearly 20 years.
Lake Forest’s African American community dated to the years just after the Civil War and grew through the late 1800s with prospects of steady employment, integrated public schools, and tight-knit neighborhoods of homes driving migration from the upper and middle South, often through word of mouth and familial connections. By 1900, two churches served the local Black community: the African Methodist Episcopal church at Maplewood and Washington, and First Baptist Church, founded that very year.
In Lake Forest, Sales first worked as a coachman for the Rumsey family. Captain Israel Parsons Rumsey, Civil War veteran, and his wife Mary lived at the Evergreens, 404 East Deerpath, just east of today’s Lake Forest Library. While working for the Rumseys, Sales lived in the upper floor of the coach house at 361 E. Westminster with third wife Tischa and their children. (This coach house, now demolished, was the home of the Lake Forest-Lake Bluff Historical Society from 1998-2016.)
Unfortunately, the young Sales family met with tragedy: 1-year-old Mildred died in 1896; Tisha Sales died of consumption in 1903; and two sons, 6-year-old Richard and an unidentified 4-year-old, died in 1904 of bronchial pneumonia.
By 1900, Walker Sales was part of the two-man Lake Forest police force, working as the night officer with James Gordon as the daytime patrol. He was hired on a regular basis after serving on special assignment: he acquired the evidence necessary to prosecute a blind pig, to convict “Mr. Ast” of selling liquor without a license (possibly George Ast, a Libertyville grocer at the time).
Sales served as a member of the police department for nearly 20 years. During his tenure, the department grew from two officers to five by 1919; his salary (and that of other officers as well) increased from $50/month to $100/month.
As night officer, Sales was often on call for burglary cases, and among his many duties included keeping watch during the “offseason” on any shuttered Lake Forest residences. Local newspapers periodically felt the need to explicate this role of a Black policeman in a North Shore community. The Chicago Tribune wrote, “In winter when many of the residents closed their homes they often left keys in charge of Sales, trusting him with thousands of dollars’ worth of furnishings. He was reputed to be a brave man and a crack pistol shot.” The Lake Forester wrote: “The night was never too dark or the request too impossible for Walker to undertake to be obliging. … Hundreds and hundreds of little things that another man never would think of helped to make Walker popular…” Occasionally Sales was similarly referred to by first name in the press, which was not often done for his white counterparts.
Another Tribune article from late 1916, as the U.S. role as goods supplier for the war-torn European countries drove up the prices of many material goods, featured Sales and his innovation of using car tires to sole his shoes. “The high cost of living can’t scare me,” the newspaper quotes Sales. “I used to be a chauffeur and I still got a fine limousine tire left. I found out the cobblers are using paper so I just tacked on a hunk of automobile tire. I gave a piece to Ferd Berghorn – he’s on the fire department – and that’s what makes him so fast.”
After Sales left the employ of the Rumseys and joined the police department in 1900, he and his family rented rooms in a house on Wisconsin Avenue. The 1908 Waukegan (and vicinity) city directory lists him residing with daughter Mamie Sales, by then working as a dressmaker. They were boarding on Wisconsin with America Bridgeman, a Black woman who ran her own laundry business. In November of 1910, Walker Sales and America Bridgeman were married in Waukegan; the wedding notice lists her as a graduate of Fisk University.
Walker and America Sales soon made their home on Effner Avenue, which in 1917 was renamed Granby. The address of their house was 321 Granby Road (the current house on the site is a more recent construction).
On March 3, 1919, Walker Sales died following complications from asthma and heart trouble. His funeral was held at First Baptist Church and he was buried in Lake Forest Cemetery. After his death, the Lake Forest City Council passed a resolution: “Whereas, for over fifteen years, Mr. Sales had served the City, faithfully and efficiently, and by his kindly and sterling character and faithful discharge of duty, had won the approbation of the City Council and the officials of the City, as well as the citizens of Lake Forest; Therefore, be it resolved: that we express our deep sorrow and regret at his loss, and our sincere sympathy for his bereaved family…”
America Sales continued to live at 321 Granby and operate her laundry business. She died in 1938. Her obituary in the Lake Forester states that: “Mrs. Sales was proud of two things during her lifetime: that she had always been able to support herself, and of the splendid record made by her husband, Walker, as a member of the local police force.”
More about Walker Sales and Lake Forest’s Black community can be found in the History Center of Lake Forest-Lake Bluff exhibit “Deeply Rooted and Rising High: African American Experiences in Lake Forest.” The exhibit will be in the gallery through November 2023. Open hours are Tuesday-Thursday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.and Saturday from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. – admission is free. Visit lflbhistory.org to learn more.