68 years of service to Beloit.
Walter Knight was born in Arkansas in 1933, to Rufus and Leola Knight, the eldest brother of three girls. The family grew cotton, corn, and sorghum – Knight recalls chewing sorghum as a child, with a chuckle. As a child, he was uninterested in farming, but enjoyed school. The all Black school consisted of three rooms, with no gymnasium, but Knight remembers playing basketball in the white school’s gym on Sunday afternoons. Halfway through eleventh grade, Knight’s aunt and uncle visited, and offered to take Knight back with them, to Wisconsin. The rest, Knight says, is history.
Knight arrived in Beloit in 1951, when he was seventeen years old. He immediately applied for a job at Fairbanks Morse, but was initially turned away because he was too young. Two months later, Knight returned on his exact eighteenth birthday, and started work at the Fairbanks Morse foundry the very next day. Work in the foundry was grueling – high temperatures, molten metal, menial labor. Knight immediately decided that this was not the job he was going to do for the rest of his life, and enrolled in vocational school at Blackhawk Technical College. After a year or two in the foundry, Knight moved into a more skilled position in the machine shop, and remained at Fairbanks Morse for twenty-five years.
Knight only dated one girl in Beloit – Sadie Brown, who became his wife. Although he already knew her brother from work at the foundry, Knight met Brown properly during a singing contest at Emmanuel Baptist Church. The couple went on to have four daughters, who produced thirteen grandchildren among them, resulting in around twenty-five great-grandchildren. In addition to this impressive legacy, Knight became Beloit’s first ever Black city councillor, in 1972. He remained on the council for thirteen and a half years, two of which as vice president, and another two as president. Prior to his tenure on city council. Knight served the city in his spare time by fighting Northern segregation. Knight, his brother-in-law, and another friend exposed discrimination in local businesses, assisting in the closure of one prejudiced restaurant, and kickstarting the desegregation of another. In November 2018, the Portland avenue bridge was named in honor of Walter Knight, and his service to Beloit.