The story of Walter B. Hoye II is about sacrifice, witness, and justice

“When viewed in light of American history,” says investigator and journalist Robert W. Artigo, author of Black and Pro-Life in America, “Walter’s story is a modern example of tyranny of the majority.”

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The work of investigative journalist and award-winning screenwriter Robert W. Artigo has appeared in broadcasts by CBS, ABC, and other major news outlets, and his work has been recognized with the Associated Press Mark Twain Award and the Radio Television Digital News Association Edward R. Murrow Award.

His book Black and Pro-Life in America: The Incarceration and Exoneration of Walter B. Hoye II (Ignatius Press, 2018) tells in detail the story of how a pro-life leader went to jail because he stood outside an abortion clinic, on a public sidewalk, with a sign saying, “God loves you and your baby. Let us help you.” The Foreword to the book was written by Alveda King, the niece of civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr.

Mr. Artigo recently corresponded with CWR about his book and the story of Walter B. Hoye II.

CWR: For readers who might not be familiar with Walter Hoye: who is he and how did you become interested in his life and story?

Robert W. Artigo: Walter Hoye II was, in 2009, a pastor of a [Baptist] church in Berkeley, California, which is next to the city of Oakland. He was invited to join a group of pro-life sidewalk councilors who were present each week outside of a for-profit abortion clinic in downtown Oakland. The idea was to introduce a new face to the people going into the clinic. This time a black American face, which would be more familiar to the girls and women going in, someone they, mostly people of color, could relate too.

His first day at the clinic touched off a series of events that lead to a new law in the city aimed at removing him from the area. Hoye would eventually face a trial and go to county jail. But exoneration would follow once the courts had a chance to review the case.

I knew of Walter’s story because I was a journalist in the Bay Area at the time. It wasn’t until a few years later that Ignatius Press in San Francisco decided it would pursue a book about the life and experiences of Walter Hoye. The book idea began at the press and I was invited to consider writing the story. Ignatius saw my background as an investigator and journalist as beneficial, and I quickly learned that I had the skills to tell the story truthfully and in depth.

CWR: While Hoye is known for his pro-life work, which is detailed in the book, you explain at the start that your book is not written as “an indictment of abortion”. What is the focus and how did you arrive at that approach?

Artigo: The approach was one of a careful balancing act. There is no shortage of books detailing the issue of abortion on either side of the matter. Walter’s book could have easily fallen into that category had it spent numerous chapters making the case against abortion. We could have dedicated an entire chapter to just detailing Walter Hoye’s own argument about how abortion clinics target black communities to boost income.

While Black and Pro-Life in America does not shy away from addressing those points, it doesn’t attempt to belabor the points or attempt to win converts. Walter’s story is told without pretense, hyperbole, or agenda … Some contributors to the book, Alveda King for example, have had abortions, and the balance meant offering an invitation rather than condemnation. It is an invitation to read without being judged.

Because Walter Hoye’s story is about American history, the First Amendment right to free speech, and equal justice, it seemed unnecessary to focus on or argue the right or wrong of abortion. The latter, of course, comes across profoundly in many ways without criticizing the many readers who may have had personal histories with terminating a pregnancy. Now, in talking about the book, some have disclosed to me their personal stories. All I can do is let them know that they can be forgiven. My hope was this balanced approach would leave open the possibility of healing within the pages of the book.

CWR: You are an investigative journalist and have worked in various secular settings. How did your background come into play in writing this book?

Artigo: I was a secular journalist in radio for the better part of two decades. I came to journalism through my experiences as an investigator. My early years were spent working for private investigators on everything from surveillance to skip tracing and litigation support for attorneys. I had also attended the police academy and had a military background with the U.S. Army. My background was desirable in journalism circles and I naturally gravitated to the news business. I eventually became a licensed investigator and worked on many criminal defense cases.

I employed everything I had grown to understand as a journalist and as an investigator. I conducted many interviews and reviewed countless hours of material. To gather facts and details without it all becoming muddled and confusing for something as involved as a book took every ounce of energy I could muster. Writing non-fiction means sourcing facts and attributing statements. Holding fast to high standards of journalistic integrity guided the work, and the attention to detail that comes with the eye of investigator served the book well.

CWR: How did Walter Hoye first begin to pursue pro-life work? What is unique or remarkable about his work to combat abortion and the culture of death?

Artigo: Walter Hoye’s Christian faith, even from a young age, lent itself to a general idea that all life, even unborn life, was sacred. But it was the birth of his son in the early 1980s that solidified his full pro-life conversion. The boy was a micro-preemie, weighing under two pounds at about 22 weeks old. There was no being wishy-washy on abortion after that experience.

In 2007, Walter’s appearance at the San Francisco Walk for Life lead to an invitation to sidewalk counseling in front of the Oakland clinic. The invitation came from Catholics who prayed and did outreach at that location. They were all white and felt the presence of a black man might help change the dynamics since the women going in were mostly black.

Walter’s first appearance at the Walk for Life underscored what he already knew. Not many black Americans were actively involved in the pro-life movement. The more he got involved, the more he was isolated in his own community. He was a minority within a minority. But he did not shy away from the challenge. Now he is a frequently sought-after speaker with many friends among Catholic faithful. Walter is a Baptist minister and now a major force behind a growing movement in the black community. He changed the narrative, just as it was hoped he might when he was first invited to the sidewalk.

CWR: What led to Hoye’s arrest in 2009 in Oakland? What does that arrest say or suggest about the legal and justice system?

Artigo: The first day Walter Hoye conducted outreach at the for-profit clinic in Oakland, clinic staff called police. He was not arrested or cited, just advised what was legal and what was not. But the clinic director also called a friend on the Oakland City Council. Over the next months and year, the city and non-governmental organizations worked together to pass a “bubble law” that seemed tailored to stop Walter Hoye.

Once passed, the same group of individuals used the law to get Walter cited. Eventually there was a trial and Walter was convicted. To offer a brief answer such as this inevitably leads to raised eyebrows and the skeptic’s words, “there must be more to it than that”. Sadly, there is much more to it, but not as a skeptic might assume. The city council, bubble law supporters, the court, and the jury all had one major problem: they did not understand the very law they so carelessly rushed to embrace.

What this story says about the justice system and the legislative process in Oakland is that where the word “abortion” is attached, even reasonable and well-intentioned people are easily corrupted. And for those not well-intentioned, it enables bullying. There is a fear that permeates these groups that makes it impossible to function in a fair and honest fashion.

CWR: While in jail, Hoye read a book about another prisoner who also suffered injustice. What can you tell us about that book and how it impacted Hoye?

Artigo: During Walter’s incarceration he suffered a near deadly episode, which landed him in the infirmary. It’s hard to know exactly why, but even in the throes of this emergency Walter grabbed a book he had received in the mail. In his dark night, as he began to recover, he poured through the pages of a book about a Jesuit priest by the name of Walter Ciszek, who lived between 1904 and 1984. Ciszek was a Polish-American who was imprisoned while engaged in missionary work in the Soviet Union. His imprisonment ncluded fifteen years of hard labor in the Gulag. During that imprisonment he continued to minister, perform Mass, and operate as a spiritual director for fellow inmates. He was known for fasting and tireless work.

Because of Walter’s circumstances, he could relate to this commitment by Father Ciszek. The story inspired Walter to continue fasting, to stand-up against pornography in the jail, and to act as spiritual director for his fellow inmates.

CWR: What does the incarceration and exoneration of Hoye tell us about the pro-life movement and the battle to limit or end abortion in the U.S. today?

Artigo: The story of a man accused falsely usually elicits compassion for the accused. Multiply that many times when the oppressor is the government operating in an official capacity. It seems universal—except for those cases colored by abortion. It is the one word that manages to corrupt the process. Stories about men and women like Walter Hoye reveal the truth that even people who claim to be compassionate for the wrongly accused would let some innocents go to the gallows just because they don’t like them.

Walter’s story is opening eyes. It opened my eyes about how and where my understanding of black history was incomplete, about the gaping holes in my own understanding of American history. We see in his life and activism the isolation, the price paid for speaking out on a subject many would prefer to keep in the shadows.

The more that people recognize their own myopic, self-centered worldview, the more they can see and hear the truth—and the more likely they’ll be open to change.

CWR: What do you think other pro-lifers can learn from Hoye’s personal witness? What impressed you most in researching and writing the book?

Artigo: The old saying “in for a penny, in for a pound” comes to mind. Walter is living proof, and I have met others who have entered into the pro-life cause knowing there are risks. Those risks are both personal and professional. Some of those people have said to me they were told a variety of black lists await and yet they went into the water, nonetheless. Walter said that “for a black man, when you set out to do this, you lose your family, you lose your community, you lose your church.”

What we learn from these examples of selfless sacrifice is that it takes conviction, and that what one gives up pales in comparison to what is gained. This is true for me as well. While I have written many secular fiction screenplays, the bias against my work as punishment for writing this book is inevitable. Walter is just one example of those who have sacrificed much more than I have, so I’m not complaining.

In researching and writing this book, I was struck by Walter’s commitment in the face of an injustice that had no boundaries. When viewed in light of American history, Walter’s story is a modern example of tyranny of the majority. What impressed me most was how history provided endless examples of why Walter’s case was so egregious. We live in a world of phony compassion, because that compassion is reserved for those who toe the line of conformity with the majority. Dissent is only a virtue if it aligns with the prevailing attitudes of the majority.

I marvel at how we as a nation continue to fail in our social obligations to see past our own biases to uphold standards of equal justice under the law. Few communities have suffered from that failing more than black Americans.


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1 Comment

  1. It seems that, as with the film GOSNELL, this story has been somewhat blacklisted. This is the first I’ve heard of it. Tragically, here in Detroit you don’t cross the “community leaders.” We do, thankfully, have the men and women of the radio show, Joshua’s Trail. And yet, most of the callers to that show are suburban and white. Rev. Hoye deserves the prayers and support of every pro life Catholic. How can this go on?

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