Ronald Walters, one of the country’s leading scholars of the politics of race and a longtime professor at Howard University and the University of Maryland, died Friday of cancer at Suburban Hospital in Bethesda, Md. He was 72.
Walters was both an academic and an activist, cementing his credentials with his early involvement in the civil rights movement. In 1958, in his home town of Wichita, he led what many historians consider the nation’s first lunch-counter sit-in protest. Later, he became a close adviser to Jesse Jackson, as campaign manager and issues director in Jackson’s failed 1984 presidential campaign.
“Ron was one of the legendary forces in the civil rights movement of the last 50 years,” Jackson said Saturday.
Walters also helped develop the intellectual framework of the Congressional Black Caucus in the 1970s. Some of his political ideas such as comprehensive health care and a proposed two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian problem were viewed as radical. A quarter-century later, they are part of the intellectual mainstream.
“As an academic, journalist and crusader, he was in the tradition of W.E.B. DuBois,” writer and civil rights leader Roger Wilkins said Saturday. “He was a man who used his intellect and wisdom to make this a fairer and culturally richer country than the one we were born into.”