From advocate to local politician: Walter Marshall continues to serve area

Walter Marshall stands with a picture of him and his fellow county commissioners at the Forsyth County Government Center.

From advocate to local politician: Walter Marshall continues to serve area
February 02
07:00 2017

Photo by Todd Luck



An advocate who became a politician, County Commissioner Walter Marshall has a long history of making a big impact on Forsyth County.

Marshall, a Wadesboro native, spent some of his childhood in Winston-Salem and then stayed in the Twin City after graduating from Winston-Salem State University.

He became a teacher and an advocate with the NAACP. He said he didn’t have the temperament to take part in marches, since protesters would often get taunted, hit or spit on. But there were plenty of other uses for his talents at the NAACP, like doing legwork for the late civil rights attorney Julius Chambers. Marshall said he still has the information he complied on inequalities in the county’s schools for the Catherine Scott segregation case.

When he became local NAACP president in the 1980s, he led several lawsuits, including two that resulted in district elections for county commissioners and school board, which let both boards have greater African-American representation. Marshall would go on to serve on both of them.

He said several people, including County Commissioner Mazie Woodruff,

wanted him to run for office because of his studious nature in learning about government and his willingness to speak out for what he believed. He said both those attributes have helped him in office.

“As an elected official, I try to learn the law and see exactly what I can do to help people,” said Marshall.

He said he was in his second term on the school board when Woodruff passed away in 1997. Woodruff – the first African American elected as a Forsyth commissioner – wanted Marshall to succeed her. The local Democratic party then picked him to take her seat.

Marshall said he thought he’d only serve a couple terms, but he’s still there nearly 20 years later. He credits his many re-elections to work-ing hard for his constituents. He’s known for his passion on many issues, including the environment and inclusion.

He counts the diversity now found among county employees, including those in management positions, as one of his biggest accomplishments. He said he’s also helped increase the amount of business the county does with minority contractors.

He said despite being a Democrat on a majority Republican board, he’s been able to have an impact.

He said that he feels he’s helped the board keep a moderate agenda.

“I’ve been able to get a majority to work with me,” said Marshall. “I disagree hardily, but I don’t become disagreeable.”

County Manager Dudley Watts said that Marshall has been a tremendously effective commissioner. He said most local issues are bipartisan in nature, so commissioners are usually all working toward the same goals, but sometimes have different ideas on how to get there. He said Marshall has never been afraid to speak his mind and challenge his colleagues.

“He’s not a go-along kind of person,” said Watts.  “If he sees what he views as an injustice, he’s genetically wired to step up and say that’s just not right.”

County Commissioner Chairman Dave Plyler said that he knew Marshall decades before he joined the commissioners and admired his work with the NAACP. He said the lawsuit that resulted in district elections was the “best thing that  ever happened” to the commissioners because it ensured diversity for a board that had been all white for most of its history. He said Marshall is a commissioner who is dedicated, caring and approachable who he often finds himself voting with despite flack he might get from some of his fellow Republicans.

“I think he’s one of the best commissioners we’ve ever had,” said Plyler.

Marshall said he originally wasn’t planning on running in 2014, but was urged to seek re-election again. He’s glad he did, since it lets him make sure that minority contractors get their fair share of work from the 2016 county bonds. However, Marshall, who is 73 years old, isn’t planning to seek re-election in 2018.

“I’ve enjoyed being able to help people, but all things should have a point where you transition from one point to another,” said Marshall.

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Todd Luck

Todd Luck

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