Roger Wilkins, the first Black assistant attorney general, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and a professor at George Mason University, died in Kensington, Md. on March 26 from complications of dementia. He was 85 years old.

Roger W. Wilkins when he was chosen by then-President Lyndon Johnson to direct the Community Relations Service, on December 27, 1965, in Washington, DC. (AP Photo / Charles Tasnadi)

Roger W. Wilkins when he was chosen by then-President Lyndon Johnson to direct the Community Relations Service, on December 27, 1965, in Washington, DC. (AP Photo / Charles Tasnadi)

Wilkins was born in Kansas City but grew up in Michigan, where he attended the University of Michigan. While in attendance, Wilkins interned with the NAACP and served as president of the University of Michigan’s local NAACP chapter. He was an officer in his student government and was elected president of his graduating class by his fellow seniors. As previously reported in the AFRO, at the time, the University of Michigan’s student population was less than .001 percent “colored.”

He also a member of the senior honor society, the Order of Angell, then known as Michigamua.

After graduation, Wilkins worked as a welfare lawyer before joining the Johnson Administration as a director of Community Relations Service. When the Community Relations Service was moved to the Department of Justice, Wilkins became an assistant attorney general.

During the transition, Wilkins told the AFRO his mission was to inspire will and commitment in the community and then facilitate the organization and employment of resources so the community could pursue its own interests.

“That’s the mandate of the Community Relations Service,” Wilkins said at the time. “My personal concern is that we do as much as we can to help people in the communities make the lives of all Americans as rich and full and as rewarding as can be achieved, free from prejudice and unnatural ugly barriers in human relations.”

At the conclusion of the Johnson Administration, Wilkins joined the Ford Foundation and then quickly moved on to the editorial staff of The Washington Post.

As a Post columnist, Wilkins, reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, and cartoonist Herbert Lawrence “Herblock” Block shared the 1973 Pulitzer prize in public service for their coverage of the Watergate scandal that ultimately led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon.

Wilkins’ career in journalism continued with positions at The New York Times, The Washington Star, and NPR.

Wilkins was publisher of the NAACP journal The Crisis, a magazine founded and originally edited by W. E. B. Du Bois. His uncle, Roy Wilkins, was an eminent name in civil rights and the NAACP. The elder Wilkins had taken over from Du Bois as an editor and had served the NAACP as executive secretary and executive director.

Wilkins was the Robinson Professor of History and American culture at George Mason University until his retirement in 2007.

Wilkins was born March 25, 1932; he died one day after his 85th birthday. He is survived by his wife of 36 years, Patricia A. King; two daughters, Amy and Elizabeth Wilkins; a son, David Wilkins; two half sisters; and two grandsons.