By Hakim Hasan:
Dr. Ronald Walters, 72, one of the foremost authorities on Black-American politics, died on Friday (September 10) of cancer. He was born on July 20, 1938 in Witchita, Kansas, a grim period in American life when blacks could not vote and were subjected to blatant racism. This, undoubtedly, shaped his lifelong and evolved worldview as a political scientist and activist.
Although Dr. Walters held many visiting professorships at major universities during his distinguished academic career, he spent the majority of his career as a professor and chair of the political science department at Howard University from the mid-1970s until 1996. From 1996 until his retirement in 2009, he was a professor of political science and Director of the African-American Leadership Institute at the University of Maryland.
Herb Boyd, “New York Amsterdam News” reporter, soberly recalls: “Most recently I was with him at Howard University where he was summoned to participate in the making of a documentary about the history of the NAACP. His analysis, like his historical insight, was concise, crisp, and to the point. Nothing wasted. No fanfare or one-upmanship.”
One of the enduring legacies of Dr. Walter’s scholarship and activism was his constant struggle to marry political theory to civic engagement and the grueling practicalities of electoral politics (“the tightrope” that politicians have to walk.) For example, his essay “Leverage Rainbow Politics,” which appeared on the Independent Politics Network website in 2008, can be read as a prophetic understanding of the right-wing—and even liberal—backlash against President Barack Obama. He writes, “Blacks can be tricked because the attraction of the first black or the first woman to do this or that seemingly fits into the legacy of civil rights, a syndrome that can be disastrous if it turns out wrong.”
Dr. Ron Daniels, former Executive Director of the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York City and Distinguished Lecturer at York College makes the pointed observation: “No one more than Dr. Ronald Walters hammered home the relevance of “leverage politics” as a time tested vehicle for organized interest groups and constituencies to extract benefits from the American political system. He created a living laboratory for his leverage theory of politics as the Issues Director and principal strategist for Rev. Jesse L. Jackson’s electrifying campaign for President in 1984.”
Dr. Walters published well over one hundred scholarly papers and many books including Black Presidential Politics, which won the Ralph Bunche Prize and Best Book Prize from the National Conference of Black Political Scientists.
To the general public, however, Dr. Walters is probably best remembered as a constant fixture and engaging political analyst on major television news programs especially when he served as a major advisor to the Reverend Jesse Jackson when he ran for president in 1984.
A public viewing and memorial service for Dr. Walters will be held at Crampton Hall at Howard University in Washington, D.C. on September 19 (3:00-5:00 P.M.). Reverend Jesse Jackson will preside over the funeral services on September 20 held at Shiloh Baptist Church (10:00 A.M. to 12:00 P.M.) in Washington, D.C.
Hakim Hasan writes frequently about social issues and politics. He is the former Director of Public Programs at the Museum of the City of New York.
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