ALFRED ISLAY WALDEN was born a slave in 1847, in Randolph County, North Carolina. He was the son of a slave woman by the name of Ruth. His father, William D. Walden, was a free man who was highly respected in the community.
Walden was gifted with innate abilities in math and language, which expressed themselves even before he was able to read. These blessings of mental math calculations, and the formulation of random verses, was discovered by his master who often showed Walden's talents off to his contemporaries, and referred to him as a poet.
In 1867, after 18 years of slavery in North Carolina,Walden, who was threatened all of his life with blindness because of nearsightedness, was nevertheless determined to learn to read and to become a minister. During the winter of that year he traveled to Washington, D.C. on foot and supported himself by selling poems and giving lectures.
He published his first book of poems Miscellaneous Poems in 1872 and a second edition in 1873 to help finance his education.
Walden enrolled in Howard University on a scholarship and earned his degree in 1876.
In 1877 he published Sacred Poems, again as a means to pay for his education.
In 1879 after completing 3 years at the New Brunswick Theological Seminary, Walden was ordained to the ministry, becoming one of the first Black graduates to achieve that distinction.
Walden returned to North Carolina and organized his own congregation. He died there in 1884 and was buried in the churchyard at Strieby Congregational Church.