Puttingthe FirstAnieridlncitt first
Agency braved ci~-rights tensibn, war protests to promote speakers
By Colleen Brosh
NEWS BUSINESS WRITER
NEWTON - When Robert Walker
launched his speakers' agency in the
mid-1960s, he faced two challenges
most new business owners do not
need to overcome: defending the
First Amendment and fighting prej-
WOl'k in P,'o ress:
Marketing,a new product
At the height of the civil rights
movement, Walker gave those
championing the cause a platform to
speak with hi~ new bu~iness . the
American Program Bureau.
The tiny company he and his wife
Francine started from a two-room
office in Boston organized some of
the decade's most prominent ac-
tivists to speak at college campuses-
before they were famous.
Civil-rights activist Dick Gregory,
feminist Betty Friedan and counter-
culture icons Abbie Hoffman and
Timothy Leary were all part of his
speakers' circuit. The speakers he
has met and managed during his 30
years of business are a Who's Who
of 20th-century history, from Andy
Warhol to Mikhail Gorbachev. "
Walker, who describes himself as
a First Amendment purist, saw an
opportunity on college campuses to
launch a lecture business and boost
his most cherished American ideal,
free speech, at the same time.
"I have always believed if you
have something to say, you should
have a platform to say it," Walker
said. "There was a lot more censor-
ship in the '60s."
First, he had to battle college ad- ,
ministrators to ailow students to
pick the speakers they wanted.
Then, once those speakers had their
say, Walker was often bombarded '
with threats and hate mail. The hati!
mail motivated him to keep going,
. Despite the obstacles, the busineSs
took off quickly, adding more
renowned speakers and more
venues around the country. The tim-
ing of his business matched the
growth of the civil rights movement
and anti-war demonstrations o~ col-
"There were no agencies that
were really doing what we were
doing. There was no one in the col-
lege market selling lectures," Walk-
er said. "We were always very issue-
STAFF PHOTO BY KEN MCGAGH
Robert Walker, chainnan and chief executive officer oflhe American Program Bureau, has arranged speeChes by
everyone from Dick Gregory to Mikhail Gorbachev.
But Walker left the busineSs for a ideals he startedwitIL HIs rrtissiort, and signed on to speak for the
while, selling it to a large company , he says, is to bring world leaders to American Program Bureau.
. 1980 th b . . b k ' . . the public so they can see and hear "That's what's unbelievable about
m ,en uymg It 'ac agam .' th' elf' c' a' us' es an' "d'I'd'eas", ' firs"'"~-d:' '' ' ' , ' several years later. UIdJ..l this lfuSlrtess: I have been able to de-
"I was tired. 1 wanted to do some- This year, he created a speakers velop friendshipS with people like
thing else," Walker said. "But 1 â¢ forum at the temple he worshiJlS at Gorbachev," Walker said.
missed it. 1 love the business." ' in Swampscott to honor his parents, He nOw hopes to bring a taste of
After a slew of other advent..ires: ' Nobel Prize ' laureates ArchbiShou th~e famous people to the public via
from bringing rock concerts to Desmond Tutu; Betty Williams and the Interne;:.
Foxboro Stadium to pulling together ' Gorbachev all spoke. ' Walker's newest venture i:! re-
a museum exhibit of Russianjeweis Walker counts Gomachevamoog launching the compa~y's World
and art from the czars, he returned his friends. His office is covered with , Wide Web site with video pieces of
, to ,the Am!lrican Program Bureau. photographs of Walker's family and the past. He plans to post old televi-
Walker, 64, remains true to the the' GorbachevS, who met afterGor- sion footage his company shot in the
bachev left the Russian presidency 1970s of political roundtable discus-
sions between college students and
politicians like Ed Muskie. John
Kerry, and Gerald Ford, before he
"I want to share with people these
things that have been in my base-
ment for the past 30 years. They are
history," he said. .
Although he still has big plans for
the company, Walker is happy with
what he has accomplished already.
"If I left this earth tomorrow, }
would feel very good about what :
have done," he said. "} have helped
people by bridging gaps."
Dr. Alvin Poussaint TST.pdf