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Walter and Frances Edwards - Hospital, Home, & Hope Builders

Walter J. and Frances Edwards

Audacious, imaginative Walter J. Edwards (pictured) did not know the meaning of the word quit. An African-American Mississippi native with a fifth-grade education, he moved to Oklahoma City from Wellston, Oklahoma in 1915 while in his mid-twenties and went to work for $9 a week. Edwards was already thirty-six years old and a successful entrepreneur when the 1929 Stock Market Crash wiped him out financially. He retained a couple of assets, though—his own shrewdness and energy, and a junkyard he had run for years. Plus, he hired Frances Waldrop as his bookkeeper in 1930, then married her when they realized they had both harbored dreams since childhood to utilize their talents to better the lot of their fellow blacks in that Jim Crow era. Frances’s (also pictured) astute financial sense and overall judgment helped Walter avoid any repeats of his 1929 travails.

In 1938, the Edwards’ shrewdly persuaded white Tuttle, Oklahoma landowner C. T. Hassmann to plat land they were purchasing from him on the northeast periphery of Oklahoma City that they planned as a new housing addition for blacks. The City Council approved the development for Hassmann in a manner Walter feared they wouldn’t for him due to his race. Then, after Walter journeyed to Washington, D.C. to campaign top national Federal Housing Administration officials for the sort of construction loan that a successful white developer could expect, Hassmann Heights became the first FHA-insured housing project ever undertaken “by Negroes for Negroes.”

Walter Edwards with his crew at the Edwards Scrap Iron and Junk Yard in Oklahoma City

Walter Edwards with his crew at the Edwards Scrap Iron and Junk Yard in Oklahoma City, which earned him a fortune and sustained him through the 1929 Stock Market Crash and 1930s Great Depression.