Roger Wilkins, who articulated the Black struggle from the halls of political power and through editorial boards of leading newspapers, died March 26 at a nursing home in Kensington, Maryland at age 85, reports the Washington Post.
He was born in Kansas City, Missouri and nurtured in a middle-class family, in which his father was a business manager of the city’s black newspaper and his mother fought for the racial desegregation of the national YWCA, before ultimately serving as its first Black president. He’s also the nephew of Roy Wilkins, who led the NAACP for more than two decades.
Wilkins was a multi-talented man who voiced his passion for civil rights and equality throughout his career, spanning law, journalism and education. He served in President Lyndon B. Johnson’s administration and on the editorial boards of the New York Times and Washington Post. Wilkins was also a history professor at George Mason University.
He was a University of Michigan Law School graduate who served as an intern to Thurgood Marshall. President Johnson tapped Wilkins to head the Community Relations Service. Through that position, he articulated to Johnson the rage that exploded into rioting in urban Black communities in the 1960s.
After Johnson left office, Wilkins exited government service to work for the Ford Foundation. He oversaw the foundation’s funding of programs for job training, drug rehabilitation and education. According to the Post, Wilkins was often frustrated by the foundation’s disproportionately White elite leaders who were well-intentioned but clueless about the struggles of Black people.
The newspaper recalled that Wilkins caused a wave in 1972 when it published his commentary, titled “A Black at the Gridiron Dinner.” It was an essay that berated liberal-minded journalists and politicians in the nation’s capital who frequented the Gridiron Club but were oblivious to racial offenses there.
With that essay, Wilkins launched an award-winning journalism career that began with an invitation to join The Post’s editorial board, from which he sought to “help make The Post speak more precisely and more powerfully to the needs of the poor and the outcast, whoever they were.” He earned a Pulitzer Prize while working at The Post.
Wilkins died of complications from dementia, his daughter Elizabeth Wilkins told The Post. He’s also survived by his wife, Patricia King, three children and two grandsons.
SOURCE: Washington Post
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