City will honor Walter Knight with bridge-naming

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Austin Montgomery/Beloit Daily News Walter Knight stands near the Rock River and Portland Avenue Bridge that will soon bear his name. The Beloit City Council will vote to rename the bridge in Knight's honor for his service to the city as Beloit's first African American city councilor.

BELOIT - "Just let me help somebody by whatever means I can."

That's how Walter Knight, the city's first African American city councilor, sums up his past service for the citizens of Beloit.

Knight served on the city council from 1972 to 1985 and also served on the Police and Fire Commission along with a variety of ad-hoc committees.

On Monday, Knight will be recognized as the Portland Avenue Bridge will gain the honorary title "Walter R. Knight Bridge."

"I think what it means for Beloit is that it shows the community and beyond that we value diversity in a very big way and we are willing to recognize individuals who make great contributions to the city," said Council President Kevin Leavy. "It's significant to me because when we look at people's lives, Walter was like the bridge between where they were and where they ended up from unemployment to employment. This is going to show that we appreciate his accomplishments and his contributions that he's made through the years."

Born in Arkansas in 1933, Knight came to Beloit at the age of 17 in 1951. He worked at Fairbanks Morse for 25 years until 1976. He later joined the Rock County Opportunities Industrialization Center where he served as executive director until 2009. OIC served disadvantaged individuals, helping them build occupational and social skills to launch successful careers.

In an interview with the Beloit Daily News on Thursday, Knight, 85, spoke humbly about his time in Beloit, recalling the early days of segregation across the city and the growth and demise of various industries in Beloit.

Knight helped organize local laborers in 1961 and studied union policy at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He said his civic service started with the Salvation Army in the early 1960s and grew from there.

During his time with the council, Knight was part of the effort to help foster early growth of Beloit Health System and the addition of Shopko in Beloit. He said he remembers hosting joint City of Beloit and Town of Beloit meetings most clearly for the unique challenges brought forth by municipalities looking to work together and coexist.

"You look back and you were proud to be a part of the development and helping people do things that might not have normally been done without your assistance," Knight said. "I just want to be measured by what I have been able to do to help others."

To the current council, Knight said, "Do the best you can with the best you have in order to help promote the well being and the betterment of your community, and don't do it for selfish reasons."

He said he was proud to see Beloit's downtown grow and commended the current council for their efforts.

"I think the city is really maintaining," Knight said. "They are trying to be a magnet for opportunities and they are staying focused on what they want the city to be like."

The council will vote on approving the honorary renaming at 7 p.m. Monday at City Hall, 100 State St.

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